A thorough overview of how electronic signatures work and their enforceability around the globe can be found on the Electronic Signature page on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_signature
In a nutshell, when a user signs an electronic contract, we create a digital signature of the document and various metadata about the transaction (we call this SHA256 hash a "fingerprint" to avoid confusion with the signature entered by the client or studio). This fingerprint can be recreated at any time if the contract and its metadata remain unaltered, thus verifying that the document and details about it (such as the user’s IP address, time of signature, and browser information) have not been modified from the original record.
Just like with traditional pen and ink signatures, the most important aspect may well be not the technical details, but showing that everybody agreed that the contract was properly executed via your continued relationship over time, especially when invoices are paid according to the contracted payment terms (this is one reason we create the signature before continuing on to collect the initial payment as a completely separate post-booking activity).
Additional Steps We Take at Táve
In addition to displaying your contract, we add the following text when a contract is being signed on a client-facing page:
By clicking the “Electronically Sign Contract” button you agree that you are signing this agreement electronically and consent to be legally bound by the agreement’s terms and conditions. You further consent to electronic delivery of any communication and documents except where specifically requested or required by law.
If your client’s browser is set to show another language, and it’s one that we support in Client Access, they’ll see the equivalent translation.
Whenever a contract is signed by a client, you’ll receive an email from us with the fingerprint as well as the metadata attached to the contract to create the signature. We suggest you use a reputable third-party hosted email provider that can verify the original receipt date of the email, if required for legal proceedings, and keep the message archived (instead of deleting it). For legal purposes, this email is BCC’ed to a tave.com corporate legal archives email account, which is powered by Google Mail.
Currently, we capture the following metadata about the page request when creating a fingerprint (and you’ll find these values in your contract signature email or contract printouts):
Táve job name and GUID
Web transaction GUID (a proprietary request identifier for the page load that may be referenced in our logs)
The user’s IP address
The user’s hostname associated with that IP address, if published
The user’s browser’s “user agent” sent with the request, if provided
After signature, you can view the metadata and fingerprint by pulling up the signed contract in your Táve account. The metadata is also included on the contract printout after signature. If you’ve enabled a client’s portal, this printout is also available to your client there. Additionally, you can view or email the contract using the standard action icons next to the contract on the job it's attached to.
Caveats and the Hard Reality
A note from Táve Co-Founder, Adrian.
To be clear, the entire Táve application suite is developed and maintained by Jason Pirkey and myself based on our needs and the feedback from our users. The two of us are software engineers, not lawyers. As such, we cannot provide legal advice. This support document simply conveys our personal experience as laypersons and is not legal advice; so please talk with an attorney about any legal matters facing you or your business.
When my wife and I began her photography business, one of the most important business decisions we made was to join the PPA from the onset. Among the many great services they provide is their indemnification trust, which provides malpractice coverage and legal assistance for their members. While we’ve never had to use it, having it there gives us peace of mind.
When facing a lawsuit, you may find comfort and useful insights from your local or online photography groups. For instance, we gathered from first hand accounts just how unfair the legal system can be toward small businesses like ours; as it feels as if many judges view consumer versus business cases as poor innocent victim versus cold predatory corporation, even when that is so often the opposite from many photographer v. client cases. All too often it seems that standing up for yourself can cost more than simply giving in to an unruly client’s unrepentant and willful breach of their contract, especially when defending yourself out of pocket. We also heard that negotiating a settlement (or any interaction at all for that matter) is best left to an attorney, as you can easily shatter the immutability and creditability of your contract by offering partial refunds of otherwise nonrefundable amounts.
Hopefully, these will never be concerns of your business.