From The Wall Street Journal:
Lawyers gathered at the Atlanta office of a big law firm were debating a head-scratching legal question. What does the emoji known as the “unamused face” actually mean?
They couldn’t even agree that the emoji in question—it has raised eyebrows and a frown—looked unamused.
“Everybody said something different,” recalls Morgan Clemons, 33 years old, a regulatory compliance lawyer at Aldridge Pite LLP who organized the gathering last summer at Bryan Cave LLP, called “Emoji Law 101.”
She didn’t even know that’s what the emoji was named. “I don’t think many of us in the room ever thought that’s what it was.”
Emojis—tiny pictures of facial expressions or objects used in text messages, emails and on social media—are no longer a laughing matter for the legal profession. Increasingly, they are bones of contention in lawsuits ranging from business disputes to harassment to defamation.
In one Michigan defamation dispute, the meaning of an emoticon, an emoji-like image created with text characters from a standard keyboard, was up for debate. A comment on an internet message board appeared to accuse a local official of corruption. The comment was followed by a “:P” emoticon.
The judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals concluded in 2014 that the emoticon “is used to represent a face with its tongue sticking out to denote a joke or sarcasm.” The court said the comment couldn’t be taken seriously or viewed as defamatory.
Puzzled lawyers are turning to seminars, informal meetings and academic papers to discern innuendo in seemingly innocuous pictures of martini glasses and prancing horses. Researchers at Deakin Law School near Melbourne, Australia, produced a 61-page study on the topic slated for publication in the April issue of an academic journal.
Debra Katz, an employment lawyer in Washington, D.C., says she was stumped by a combination of emojis that included horses and one that “looked like a muffin” in text messages associated with a harassment case. She solicited opinions from her colleagues in the office about what it might mean. Her client told her it meant “stud muffin.” She says her client viewed the emojis as an extension of the alleged unwelcome advances at issue in the dispute.
“There are no limits to the emoji possibilities,” Ms. Katz says. “The reality is people are just going to keep using their technology to communicate.”
Last year, emojis or emoticons were mentioned in at least 33 U.S. federal and state court opinions, according to research from Eric Goldman, a law professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law. That is up from 25 in 2016 and 14 in 2015. He’s already counted three this year.
Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal
PG says the subjects of dispute between human beings never stop growing. It’s great for business.