10 Legal Cases Involving Emojis


10 Legal Cases Involving Emojis

In our digital era, emojis aren’t just playful icons anymore; they’re stepping into the courtroom with real-world legally binding implications. As these symbols increasingly intersect with legal matters, courts are delving into the nuanced challenge of deciphering their implications ⚖️👨‍⚖️. This article points out 10 prominent emoji-related legal cases.

1. State v. Disabato

In the case of State versus Disabato, Disabato faced a conviction for telecommunications harassment after sending unsolicited text messages with the “rodent” emojis which is most likely the 🐀 Rat Emoji which can be frequently interpreted as insinuations of disloyalty or betrayal, akin to calling someone a “rat”.

The court looked at the surrounding circumstances to interpret the communication, including the accompanying text and whether the emoticon/emoji materially altered the intended meaning of the message.

2. Emerson v. Dart

Paula Emerson, an officer at the Cook County Department of Corrections, contended she was subjected to unjust discrimination by County employees during her time at a County detention facility. She believed she was retaliated against for launching formal personnel grievances. While her complaints under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were in deliberation, Emerson took to Facebook, cautioning potential witnesses of legal consequences if they chose to testify against her. Her post featured the 💩 Poop Emoji, which subsequently became a central topic in the litigation.

The Seventh Circuit endorsed the district judge’s verdict to penalize Emerson with a $17,000 fine due to her intimidating demeanor and passed a summary judgment supporting the defendants. This case stands out as the pioneering instance where a federal Circuit Court has officially documented a “poop” emoji in a published verdict. Emojis, as they gain prominence in digital communications, present unique interpretative challenges in legal contexts. Courts, aiming to decipher their implications, often resort to examining the surrounding context.

3. Bay Area Prostitution Sting Case

The Bay Area Prostitution Sting Case involved prosecutors trying to prove that a man arrested during a prostitution sting was guilty of pimping charges. Among the evidence presented were Instagram direct messages (DMs) sent by the defendant to a woman. The message read, “Teamwork makes the dream work,” followed by 👠 High Heels Emoji and 💰 Money Bag Emoji.

Prosecutors argued that the emojis supported their interpretation that the defendant was involved in illegal activities. This case highlights the increasing prevalence of emojis as evidence in court cases and the challenges courts face in interpreting their meaning and intent.

4. South West Terminal Ltd. v. Achter Land & Cattle

This is a pivotal Canadian court decision that recognized a 👍 Thumbs-Up Emoji as a legitimate electronic endorsement or “signature” of a binding contract.

The company South West Terminal Limited (SWT) initiated a summary judgment against Achter Land and Cattle Ltd (Achter), accusing them of contract violation. A buyer representing SWT penned and endorsed a flax contract, subsequently texting a snapshot of this agreement to Chris Achter, the designated spokesperson for Achter Land and Cattle Ltd. Chris Achter’s reply was a simple 👍 Thumbs-Up Emoji via text.

The court, in its judgment, validated the 👍 Thumbs-Up Emoji as a credible acceptance gesture regarding the contract, decreeing damages exceeding $82,000 for the breach of said contract. The court wasn’t swayed by assertions that such a ruling might pave the way for legal ambiguities regarding emoji interpretations in the future.

The implications of this case underscore the burgeoning role of emojis in the realm of law. Moreover, it emphasizes the imperative for individuals and corporate entities to exercise caution in digital interactions, considering the potential legal ramifications emojis might carry.

5. Sewell v. Daniel

Similarly, in this case, the 👍 Thumbs-Up Emoji was used in the context of a dispute over a waiver of a buyer’s technical breach of a notice provision.

The Northern District of Georgia weighed in on a unique case, suggesting that the seller’s actions, which encompassed a 👍 Thumbs-Up Emoji, contributed to a tangible disagreement about whether a buyer’s technical violation of the notice provision was indeed waived. This case underlines the escalating influence of emojis in the legal sphere and the inherent hurdles courts grapple with when deducing their meaning and intent.

6. Twitter Lawsuit Against Elon Musk

In a lawsuit against Elon Musk, Twitter cited his use of the 💩 Poop Emoji in a tweet as evidence of his public disparagement of the company, which according to Twitter, infringes the non-disparagement clause of the purchase agreement.

Back in May 2022, Musk deployed the 💩 Poop Emoji in a tweet as a reaction to remarks made by Twitter’s CEO, Parag Agrawal, concerning the handling of spam accounts on the platform. Twitter leveraged this tweet as a key piece of evidence in their lawsuit against Musk, accusing him of reneging on a proposed $44 billion transaction to acquire the social media giant.

In the face of ongoing litigation, Musk continued his use of the 💩 Poop Emoji in subsequent tweets, adding layers of complexity to the legal scenario. This case brings to the fore the intricacies and potential pitfalls courts encounter when striving to interpret the intent and meaning behind emojis, emphasizing their characteristic contextual nuance and subjective interpretations.

7. Bed Bath & Beyond Corp. Securities Litigation

In the landmark case of Bed Bath & Beyond Corp. Securities Litigation, the court reached a pivotal conclusion regarding Ryan Cohen’s utilization of the 🌝 Full Moon Face Emoji in one of his tweets. The court deduced that this emoji might be construed as an implicit encouragement to invest in Bed Bath’s stock.

This was particularly intriguing, given Cohen’s waning enthusiasm for the company. The court’s verdict emphasized that emojis could be subjected to legal actions if they convey a sentiment or notion that, in a different format, would also be actionable. Thus, using an emoji doesn’t provide immunity from potential liabilities.

This lawsuit centered around allegations of securities fraud, accusing Cohen and his firm, RC Ventures, of deceiving investors and engaging in insider trading. A pivotal contention raised by the plaintiffs was that Cohen purposefully employed the 🌝 Full Moon Face Emoji.

They argued that Cohen was well aware that his vast follower base would interpret this emoji as a testament to his faith in Bed Bath & Beyond. However, as per the shareholder’s grievance, Cohen’s true motive might have been to inflate the stock value before strategically offloading his shares.

8. Friel v. Dapper Labs

Friel v. Dapper Labs is a case in which the plaintiffs sued Dapper Labs, the promoters of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) known as NBA Top Shot Moments, for allegedly violating securities laws by offering these NFTs for sale to the public without filing a registration statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The case revolves around whether Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot Moments are considered securities under the Howey test, a multipronged test used to determine if an investment is a security.

In February 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the plaintiffs adequately alleged that the defendants’ non-fungible tokens were investment contract securities under the Howey test. The court found that the value of Moments is causally related to the profitability of Dapper Labs as a whole, as their value depends on the success of the Flow Blockchain. The court also held that social media statements made by Dapper Labs, which included emojis such as the 🚀 Rocket Ship Emoji, the 📈 Stock Chart Emoji, and 💰 Money Bags Emoji, objectively meant one thing: a financial return on investment.

The Friel v. Dapper Labs case is significant as the first federal court decision expressly addressing the question of whether non-fungible tokens are securities under the Howey test. The decision may provide a roadmap for the SEC and other regulators to bring securities enforcement actions against NFT issuers and may encourage additional plaintiffs to bring securities law actions against issuers of NFTs. However, it is important to note that the court’s order does not definitively settle whether all NFTs, or even Moments, are securities. The order concludes that the plaintiffs have adequately shown that Moments meet the definition of a security, which allows the lawsuit to proceed, but it is not a final ruling on the merits of the securities class action lawsuit.

9. Burrows v. Houda

This Australian defamation case involves a Twitter exchange between two lawyers, Zali Burrows (plaintiff) and Adam Houda (defendant). The case centered around the use of a 🤐 zipper-mouth face emoji in a tweet by Houda, which Burrows claimed was defamatory.

The background of the case involves an article published by an Australian newspaper, The Herald, which reported on a judge’s criticism of Burrows’ conduct in a legal matter and suggested that her conduct be referred to the Law Society for potential disciplinary action. In response to a question on Twitter asking, “But what happened to her since?”, Houda replied with the 🤐 zipper-mouth face emoji.

Burrows alleged that Houda’s comment and emoji implied she was facing potential legal proceedings arising from a judge questioning her competency as a lawyer. The New South Wales District Court (NSWDC) held that the zipper-mouth face emoji 🤐 emoji has the potential to convey a defamatory meaning. This case marked the first time an Australian court determined the meaning of an emoji in a defamation context.

10. Singh’s Demand for WhatsApp

While strictly not a legal case, this is still an interesting incident. In December 2017, Gurmeet Singh, a lawyer from Delhi, India, wrote a letter to the messaging application, WhatsApp, demanding the removal of the 🖕 Middle Finger Emoji. He described the emoji as ‘lewd’ and threatened to file a civil or criminal complaint against the tech company if they didn’t comply within 15 days.

According to Singh, displaying the 🖕 Middle Finger Emoji is not only considered an offensive gesture but is also a highly invasive and obscene symbol. He cited the Indian Penal Code Sections 354 and 509, emphasizing that making obscene gestures towards females is an offense in India.

Furthermore, Singh pointed out that per Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act of 1994, the act of showing the middle finger is also an offense in Ireland. By including the 🖕 Middle Finger Emoji in their app, WhatsApp was allegedly facilitating the use of an offensive gesture. The company was reached out for comments on the issue, but there was no immediate public response.


Emojis are more than fun symbols; they have real-world implications, especially in the legal cases involving emojis pointed out in this article. From the 🐀 Rat Emoji implying betrayal to the 👍 Thumbs-Up Emoji sealing a contract, courts are now tasked with interpreting their meanings.

As technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, we need to be careful with our emoji choices. Want to learn more? Dive into our article about the “hidden meaning of emojis” and discover the stories behind these symbols! 🧐🔍📖