A Symbol of Our Times Appearing in Court

A Symbol of Our Times Appearing in Court

We’re kicking off the week with some light legal reading. Courtesy of Yahoo comes a collection of court cases where emojis have had their day in court.

During the Silk Road case and trial of Ross Ulbricht, the matter of whether a colon and parentheses : ) emoticon that was part of a text or email message should be shared with a jury. Yes, said the judge, because it’s part of the evidence.

While the eventual guilty verdict wasn’t dependent on that emoticon, Yahoo offers a case where a semicolon and parentheses ; ) emoticon did have an effect because of its multiple meanings.

In the well-known “dancing baby case,” Lenz v. Universal Music Group, in which UMG objected to Stephanie Lenz’s use of Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy” in the video of her dancing daughter, her usage of “;- )” in an email was helpful to her case. The judge concluded that since the emoticon was winking, Lenz intended sarcasm about the “stilted language” lawyers use and wasn’t necessarily admitting “that she wasn’t ‘injured substantially and irreparably’ by UMG forcing YouTube to remove a video she’d uploaded to amuse friends and family.”

Yahoo asserts that the increasing range of emojis and their varying appearance depending on the operating system could create complication for the courts in the future. For example, a handgun in one system could appear as a squirt gun or toy ray gun and a smiling emoticon as a “J.”

Since technology created these forms of expression, it’s fitting that technology is also playing a role in their interpretation. According to Yahoo, software is already in existence for discovery to mark inconsistencies in emojis when used as a form of communication.

“Emoji literacy” and assessing bias could also one day become part of jury selection.

Given the growing prevalence of emojis in digital communications, there’s also the possibility that emojis could one day appear in a Supreme Court opinion. A happy emoji? Not likely, says an analyst in Yahoo’s report. It will probably be the gun emoji, followed by the bomb and knife emojis. 🙈

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