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Electronic signature and image of signature: what legal value does each have?

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Pauline Dubois

Pauline Dubois

Content manager @Yousign

Illustration: Léa Coiffey

You’ve probably already asked yourself the question: what’s the point of this signature image on the digital document that I’m signing?

Is the scanned image of my handwritten signature legally valid?

So many questions calling for a look back at the topic of the visual signature and its legal assessment 😉

Electronic signature: signature image and legal value

Electronic signature is governed in Europe by the eIDAS Regulation, which defines the rules for its use.

It also must meet certain criteria, the main ones being:  

1️⃣ identification of the signatory, 
2️⃣ proof of the signatory’s consent
3️⃣ guarantee of the document’s integrity, ensuring that its content remains constant over time.

⚠️ Let’s be clear from the start: adding a signature image isn’t enough to give a digital document legal value 

It’s actually the electronic certificate attached to the electronic signature procedure that has legal value and not the visual signature on the digital document.

☝️ It’s actually the electronic certificate attached to the electronic signature procedure that has legal value and not the visual signature on the digital document.

The visible signature image is essentially psychological or even aesthetic: it merely represents the signatory’s consent.

Note: the consequence is that the printed version of the electronically signed digital document isn’t considered legally valid.
If there’s a dispute, it’s the audit trail that allows the electronic signature procedure to be replayed technically. How? By providing the information necessary for this procedure, in particular the certificate used.

Lastly, if you use electronic initials through our Yousign solution, the principle is the same: they’re simply a reinsurance for the signatories without any real legal value.

1. Scanned image of a handwritten signature

A scanned signature is a digital image of a handwritten signature.

It is obtained by scanning a paper document that has previously been signed by hand and converted into a digital format (doc, pdf, etc.).

  • signature scannée

⚠️ NOTE: a scanned handwritten signature has no legal value for several reasons:

●      It is impossible to identify the signatory;

●      It is impossible to prove the signatory’s consent to the obligations arising from the document.

It doesn’t comply with the eIDAS regulation because it’s easily falsifiable.

For example, image editing software could be used to modify the signature very easily or create an identical copy of it!

In addition, a document signed by hand and scanned doesn’t constitute an original. It must be considered a copy

Note: even if you add a step to authenticate the signatory’s identity (via a code sent by text message, for instance), a scanned signature remains disputable, as it doesn’t guarantee the integrity of the signed document.

If there’s a dispute before a court, it has less legal weight than an electronic signature and therefore provides less protection.


Did this article help you to better understand electronic signature? Let us know

And remember: the visual signature image on a digital document during an electronic signature procedure has no legal value. It’s the intangible, invisible certificate that does all the work!

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