Electronic signatures are becoming more common in business transactions. There is legislation in the US and many other jurisdictions that confirms the validity of e-signatures, and case law dating back to the days of the telegraph that accepts electronic signatures as the legal equivalent of ‘wet ink’ signatures.
In the US, the federal ESign Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (adopted by almost all US states, with a few states adopting their own legislation) define an electronic signature as “an electronic sound, symbol, or process, attached to or logically associated with a contract or other record and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the record”. The legislation also provides that contracts and signatures may not be denied legal effect solely because they are in electronic form.
One important point of context when thinking about e-signatures is that, in general, contracts do not require signatures in order to be legally binding. E-signatures, like ‘wet ink’ signatures, simply provide evidence about the parties’ intent to be legally bound, but in general they are not an essential element of a binding contract. For example, verbal contracts can be binding and email exchanges can create binding contracts. The reason for putting contracts in writing and for signing them is to provide much stronger evidence about what was agreed to, and that the parties did in fact intend to be legally bound.
Interestingly, ‘wet ink’ signatures by themselves do not provide very strong evidence about the identity of the signor. Electronic signatures typically provide at least some evidence about the identity of the signor, because the e-signature is typically tied to an email address, an IP address and potentially other personal data about the signor.
Have questions about e-signatures? Contact us at email@example.com.
This is general background information, and not legal advice. We’re not a law firm and we can’t provide legal advice on your specific circumstances, which may involve issues that aren’t addressed by this general information. If you need legal advice, you should consult a lawyer in your jurisdiction.