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Electronic signatures - how do they work?
Thread poster: ViktoriaG

ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:43
English to French
+ ...
Jun 1, 2006

Dear colleagues,

I would like to know how electronic signatures work in different parts of the world.

Things I'd like to know:
What is a legally acceptable signature (e-mail, PDF, etc.)?
What do you do when you have a PDF contract that you would like to get signed, but the client doesn't have a scanner to scan the signed copy back into an e-mail?
Is simply replying to a plain text e-mail contract legally considered valid?

All comments on this are welcome, from all parts of the world. Legal opinions are, of course, more than welcome.

Thanks!


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 11:43
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Some answers... Jun 2, 2006

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:
What is a legally acceptable signature (e-mail, PDF, etc.)?


I'm not a lawyer.

Officially, in South Africa, these things are governed by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act [No. 25 of 2002], at: http://www.info.gov.za/gazette/acts/2002/a25-02.pdf .

Unfortunately for South Africans, the Act stipulates that an electronic signature is only legally binding if the signature service provider is accredited by the South African digital encryption accreditation authority, which AFAIK isn't in operation yet.

What do you do when you have a PDF contract that you would like to get signed, but the client doesn't have a scanner to scan the signed copy back into an e-mail? Is simply replying to a plain text e-mail contract legally considered valid?


In South Africa, even an oral non-written contract is considered legally binding. The issue is not whether an e-mailed contract is binding, but whether the courts will accept it as undeniable proof of the agreement if the case goes to court. And in the absence of a signed contract, the onus would be on the person claiming that the agreement exists to prove that the agreement exists.


[Edited at 2006-06-02 08:30]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:43
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Samuel Jun 3, 2006

It seems that this is a complex issue. In Canada, it's pretty much the same for verbal contracts: they are considered to be binding, but only if it is proven that the contract really was passed. How can you prove that somebody said something at some point in time? I think this particular law is useless, as it is clearly unenforceable.

I am, by the way, very surprised that I didn't get more replies to this thread. I think it is an important question, and as we all do business through the internet, I thought there would be more people able to tell me how this works. However, seeing how few people responded, I am guessing that nobody really knows, and most of us are actually taking chances, hoping that they will not have to go to court, as only then will they find out whether that electronic signature really was binding. I guess I will consult a lawyer myself, as I really want my contracts to be done according to the laws that apply to them. I don't want to live in the belief that I have a contract and that I am safe when it is not the case.

If and when I do contact a lawyer to clear this up, I will be happy to let you know the legal opinion I get.

Thanks, Samuel!

Viktoria


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