All around the world, people and businesses use technology to connect and communicate.
As one of the most powerful tools available to enterprise-level businesses, eSignatures make it simple to strengthen connections with partners and customers from just about anywhere.
Electronic signature tools (and the laws that govern them) allow businesses to acknowledge, confirm, and solidify an agreement between two parties — whether they’re in the same city or on different continents.
That said, different countries can have very different laws surrounding the use and enforcement of electronic signatures. The more often you work with international partners or customers, the more important it is to inform yourself of any local laws relevant to your agreement.
Keep reading to find out how local eSignature laws impact business with French partners and customers.
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Are eSignatures Legal in France?
If there’s anything you need to know about France eSignature regulations, it’s this: Are electronic signatures legal in France?
Oui! Electronic signatures are legal in France. That means whether you’re working with partners in Paris or clients in Marseille, you can confidently use eSignatures for virtually every business agreement, with few exceptions.
More specifically, eSignatures have been legally recognized in France since 2000.
According to Article 1367 of the Civil Code, a Qualified Electronic Signature wields the same evidentiary weight as one that’s signed by hand. As long as an eSignature is completed using a process that links it to the identity of the person who signed it, it is presumed to be authentic and considered legally reliable.
Even if an eSignature fails to meet these standards of a QES, it would still be admissible in court. However, in this case, it would be up to the relevant party to provide evidence of the eSignature’s validity.
Considering this, it’s important to get familiar with the different types of eSignatures that are used in France in specific situations — which we’ll dive into right after a brief history of eSignature regulations in L’Hexagone and beyond.
How Are eSignatures Regulated in France? Electronic Signature Laws Through the Years
Let’s take a look at the rules and regulations that have shaped eSignature laws in France over the years.
(1999) The Electronic Signature Directive
Like most of Europe, France’s early eSignature regulations were kick-started by the EU’s Electronic Signature Directive 1999/93/EC. This directive introduced guidelines for eSignature regulations that were meant to simplify cross-border agreements and transactions between EU member states.
(2000) The Electronic Signature Act
The first French law to legally recognize eSignatures was the Electronic Signature Act of March 13, 2000, which was introduced in response to the EU’s Electronic Signature Directive. France introduced further electronic signature regulations with the Decree of March 30, 2001, and the Decree of April 18, 2002.
(2000-2014) Fragmented eSignature Laws Across Europe
Although the Electronic Signature Directive set the stage for eSignatures to be legalized across the EU, these guidelines proved increasingly ineffective as time went on. This was in part because each member state interpreted the directive differently and created their own set of eSignature laws, but also because the guidelines became outdated as technology rapidly evolved over the next decade.
Put simply, there was no consistency in how eSignatures were regulated across the EU. The regulations set out in the 1999 directive were too broad and open to interpretation to create coherent eSignature regulations for 28 (at the time) different countries.
(2014) A Cohesive Solution is Introduced: eIDAS
In 2014, to remedy the problems caused by inconsistent laws, the EU introduced Regulation No. 910/2014 on Electronic Identification and Trust Services for Electronic Transactions in the Internal Market (eIDAS). The new regulation, implemented in 2016, served to (finally!) standardize eSignature laws across all 28 member states.
The Three Types of eSignatures Recognized Under eIDAS
Today, the eIDAS regulation applies to all 27 EU member states, including France. While each country still has its own set of laws to govern local eSignature laws, eIDAS created a solid regulatory foundation that ensures electronic signatures are used and recognized consistently across the entire EU.
In addition to standardizing eSignature regulations across Europe, eIDAS also introduced and defined three different types of electronic signatures: Standard Electronic Signatures (SES), Advanced Electronic Signatures (AES), and Qualified Electronic Signatures (QES).
Each of these types corresponds with a level of security and reliability for eSignatures, with SES being the easiest to complete and AES and QES requiring extra steps and protections. Additionally, each type is best suited to specific types of documents and specific scenarios.
Here’s a definition of the different types and a breakdown of how they can be used in France and other countries in the EU.
1. Standard Electronic Signature (SES)
The first form of eSignature recognized under eIDAS is the Standard Electronic Signature (SES). An SES can be anything from a button or checkbox that consumers must click to a typed name on an online form.
2. Advanced Electronic Signature (AES)
Next up, an Advanced Electronic Signature (AES) has an added layer of security. Not only must it be unique to the signer, but it must also be created using a secure eSignature platform.
3. Qualified Electronic Signature (QES)
In order to create a Qualified Electronic Signature, the signature must meet all the requirements of an AES and also receive a qualified certificate verifying its validity.
Under French law, a QES is considered the legal equivalent to a handwritten signature. This makes a QES quite a reliable type of eSignature in France, with the same evidentiary weight as a wet ink signature.
Which Type of eSignature Should You Use? The Pros and Cons of Each
When it comes to choosing which type of eSignature is best-suited to your document, there are several factors to consider. One of the benefits of an SES is that it’s easy to complete — like a checkbox on a terms of service agreement. The downside is that an SES isn’t linked to the identity of the signer.
In France, an SES is considered appropriate for a range of purposes, including commercial and consumer agreements, HR documents, real estate agreements, and even non-exclusive patents. However, for more sensitive documents (or those at a higher risk of being disputed), a type of eSignature with another layer of security may be preferred.
With AES and QES, there are extra steps that must be taken and additional requirements that must be fulfilled. By creating an AES or a QES, the signature is linked to the personal identity of the signatories. This makes it difficult to challenge the validity of the agreement.
How does this play out in court? Well, French law states that an eSignature cannot be deemed inadmissible, even if it fails to meet the standards of a QES. However, if an SES is challenged or brought to court, there may be a need for greater evidence to be presented to prove the identity of the signatory. But if a document signed by an AES or QES is brought to court, it’s more likely there will be little to no pressure on the parties to prove the identity of the person who signed — because it’s already linked. By taking the steps to create a reliable AES or QES, the identity of the signatory is implicit.
Taking Your Business International? Get Local eSignature Laws Right
Hopefully, you’ve learned something new today about French eSignature laws — knowledge is power, after all. The more you know about eSignature laws in France and Europe, the more confidently you can conduct business with businesses and clients in those locales.
Whether you’re working with partners in France, expanding to the EU, or looking to break into the international market (oh, the places you’ll go!), at Dropbox Sign we’re making it easier than ever for businesses to create secure agreements from anywhere in the world.
Want to learn more about eSignatures in other countries? Keep an eye on the Dropbox Sign blog, where we’ll keep posting everything you need to know about international eSignature laws.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Since laws and regulations governing eSignatures may be frequently updated, Dropbox Sign does not guarantee all the information on its site is up-to-date or accurate. If you have legal questions about the content on this site, or about whether Dropbox Sign’s solutions fit your needs, please seek professional legal advice from a licensed attorney in your region.