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Can One Enforce Electronic Agreements?

In literature, you may find “contracts” described as promises, or groups of promises, which the law will enforce, or the performance of which is in some way recognized as a duty. An enforceable contract may be established by a bargain in which there is some manifestation of mutual agreement, or, in the case of the sale of goods, a contract can be made in any manner sufficient to show agreement, including conduct by both parties which recognizes the existence of such a contract.

In some cases, there are formal requirements imposed by the law. For example, for a contract for the sale of goods for $500 or more, the Uniform Commercial Code (US) requires “some writing sufficient to indicate that a contract for sale has been made between the parties and signed by the party against whom enforcement is sought…” A signed writing is also required for contracts that by their terms cannot be completed within one year from the time they are made. Similar regulations apply in many, if not all, of the countries. Signed writing is required in a number of other cases, but I will stop it here for this is not meant to be a public lecture on Contract Law.

Will an electronic document satisfy the formal requirements of a signed writing?

Alas, there is no clear answer yet. Quite a lot compelling arguments have been made to support the validity of electronic agreements, but when it comes to the court of law, there is no clear resolution.

Generally, the requirement of a writing is not hard to satify. It will just take an “intentional reduction to tangible form”. The form of the writing is immaterial. The requirement of a writing will be considered satisfied in the context of contract formation itself, or in other cases where a written instrument was required.

In regards to the sigatures, there is no requirement of a particular type. They may be printed, typed, etc. It is required that the signature has been put by the defendants or their agents for the purpose of authenticating the writing. In practice, courts have been very liberal in finding signed writings, even though the requirement of a signature is intended to prevent fraud.

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