A judge in a court case has ruled that a series of texted emoji (shown) constituted a valid agreement to rent an apartment …

The WSJ reports that this is just one instance of lawyers and judges having to interpret the meaning of emojis in emails, texts and other communications.

The study […] discussed a case in Israel that involved a couple looking for an apartment. They texted a landlord a series of emojis, including a smiley face, a comet, a champagne bottle, dancing yellow Playboy bunnies and a chipmunk. The landlord believed, based in part on the emojis, that the couple had agreed to rent the apartment. He took down the listing, then sued them when they stopped responding to his messages.

A judge found in favor of the landlord, reasoning the couple had negotiated in bad faith, and fined them a month’s rent as damages, according to the Deakin study.

A judge in another case ruled that the addition of a :P emoticon meant that the message to which it was appended didn’t constitute defamation.

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.

The difficulty of interpreting the legal meaning of emoji was highlighted by senior lawyers trying to reach a conclusion on the unamused face emoji.

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.”

The paper reports that the interpretation of emoji and emoticons featured in at least 33 court rulings last year, a number that is steadily increasing.

Apartment rental photo: HuffPost

Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news:

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news:

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel

About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

Ben Lovejoy's favorite gear