Images of chipmunks, smiling faces and champagne bottles are not traditionally considered capable of forming the basis of legal obligations, but a recent Israeli judgment has held that a landlord’s reliance upon these ‘emojis’ entitled him to damages from the prospective tenants who sent them in bad faith. In this case, the use of these digital symbols was interpreted as conveying “great optimism” to the landlord regarding the tenants’ desire to rent his apartment, which prompted him to remove the listing from a property website. The emojis were not, in the circumstances, deemed to constitute a binding agreement, but the Israeli court’s willingness to consider the meaning of the images has prompted widespread discussion concerning the expansion of legal protection to emoji speech.

Emojis are small images of facial expressions or objects used in digital text. By replacing what would be conveyed face-to-face through body language, they bridge the communication gap inherent to text-only dialogue, and add creativity into our digital communications. From their creation in Japan in the 1990s, the use of emojis has precipitated an historic change in how humans communicate, with an estimated 92 percent of the world’s online population using emojis in over three trillion digital messages. After the Oxford English Dictionary announced the ‘tears with face of joy’ emoji as 2015’s ‘word of the year’, the Telegraph suggested that: “Emoji is the fastest growing form of language in history based on its incredible adoption rate and speed of evolution.”

Apr-Jun 2018 issue

Weil Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP