What is an electronic signature?

If you want to sign your contracts online, this is a great first question, and once you understand everything that goes into a top quality electronic signature, the value of Scrive becomes obvious.

A common definition is that ‘electronic signature’ means data in electronic form which is attached to or logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign (see e.g. the “eIDAS”-regulation). In simpler terms, you can consider an electronic signature to be the same as your handwritten signature in the digital environment. In fact, you never actually have to draw or write your name at all to sign electronically. A very basic method for electronic signature could be two clicks on two buttons (one click could be an accident) where that “transaction” data is somehow attached to the electronic document you signed.

This might seem pretty straightforward, but when the subject matter of the document is a contract, a basic electronic signature wouldn’t be recommendable. For a contract, it’s essential to be able to prove intent – i.e. that the signatories somehow expressed their intention to be bound by the contract. This is a fundamental requirement in contract law worldwide, and this is why the Scrive user interface and the Scrive Evidence Package – that is embedded in each document signed with Scrive – have been particularly designed to assure that the contract law requirements are fulfilled.

When you use Scrive to sign electronically, a variety of digital evidence is collected, from the precise time you signed, to the proof of your intent to sign, and all of that evidence is digitally sealed in the document when everyone has signed. The purpose of the Evidence Package is to supply a document that is provable and useful in court independently of Scrive or any other third party until the end of time.

There are a lot of companies offering electronic signatures, and many of them only offer a minimum level of legal evidence. If you don’t care about the risk of repudiation – like if you are signing something that has no real value – then any e-signature will do the job. However, if you need an electronic signature solution that complies with the key requirements in contract law around the world: choose Scrive.

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What is a digital signature?

When you know what an electronic signature is, the next step is to sort out the common misunderstandings about digital signatures. Digital signature technology (such as PKI-based technology) can be used for various purposes, which include being used – as one of many methods – to sign an electronic document. And when you hear the terms “advanced “or “qualified” electronic signatures, this relates to the use of digital signature technology. No wonder the terms digital signature and electronic signature are often confused! Adding to that confusion is the common and very unfortunate misconception that the use of an “advanced “or “qualified” electronic signature is a general prerequisite for an electronic signature to become legally binding.

Now, what you need to know about this is that when you use an e-signing service like Scrive, the digital signature technology has two distinct areas of application:

1. Any serious e-signing service should apply a digital signature as a means of protecting the integrity of the signed document. This way you can prove that the digital document is authentic and that it has not been altered after it was signed. Without a digital signature, someone might easily tamper with the document that has your electronic signature on it. Nobody wants that, of course (by the way, this is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t be using scanned PDFs). In other words, it works like a digital seal of the document, and you can naturally conclude that a seal in itself is not what makes you bound by the contract.

– In this regard, Scrive actually goes the extra mile for your maximum security and applies two types of digital signatures, first a PKI-based version and then an even more secure “keyless” digital signature (block chain technology) which makes the document mathematically sealed in a way so that you can verify the authenticity of the document forever – even if Scrive isn’t around anymore.

2. Digital signature technology is also a means for a stronger authentication of the signatory’s identity. In this context, you can look at digital signature technology as a form of electronic identity (or eID). Same as with the function of the seal, using a digital signature solution to authenticate your identity is not in itself what makes you bound by the contract. In fact, the vast majority of business transactions that our customers process in Scrive is just “basic” identification because using eID wouldn’t add that much value. Even so, there are cases where the use of eID is recommendable or even mandatory by specific legislation.

– Scrive’s position concerning the question of identification is simple: Scrive may implement any technology you require for identifying the signatory. Scrive already has eID, taking a photo of ID and two-factor authentication via PIN by SMS. Our advice to you is to determine what identification method to use based on your business risk and the user friendliness of the available methods – unless of course specific regulatory requirements with regards to digital identification method do apply for the type of documents you want to have e-signed.

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How to make an electronic signature

An electronic signature can be added to any PDF document by using Scrive.

Just add the contact information, add the fields where you want the parties to fill in and sign, and send the document to anyone via email or text message (or both). For details, read our step-by-step Get Started Guide, or register for a free Scrive account right now.

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Are electronic signatures legal?

The answer is yes, with very few exceptions.

The idea of signing a piece of paper to “agree” is something that we all learn from a young age, but this is of course not the only way you can make an agreement. Most countries provide freedom of form and that a contract can be concluded by any means; oral confirmation, ink-on-paper-confirmation, body language or electronic communication. The important thing is that the parties have somehow expressed their intention to be bound by the contract.

So, regarding contract law, using an electronic signature makes you legally bound by the contract you signed, as long as the general requirements for concluding a contract are fulfilled. The use of electronic signatures was already possible according to the Swedish contract law when it was first implemented in 1915! Still, people have been – and sometimes still are – hesitant as to the legality of using electronic signature services. This is a reason why many countries have seen it fit to implement laws that explicitly state that electronic signatures have legal effect and must be recognised as evidence in court proceedings (see e.g. the “eIDAS”-regulation, article 25.1).

So what about the risk or repudiation? Well, when you sign a Scrive contract, the software records the technology you are using, the things you click, your signature, screenshots of the process, the exact time and place you signed (down to the microsecond!), and seals all of that evidence into the final document. So if someone should repudiate the contract, the Scrive evidence package offers the best protection you can get. With it you have all information at hand – it’s embedded into the signed PDF –  to be able to prove everything that happened during the signing experience, including evidence of intent.

Now, finally what about the exceptions – can you use electronic signatures for any contracts and other documents? To begin with, there are certain types of agreements/formal documents where the law may still require a handwritten signature on paper (a typical example is a contract for the sale and purchase of land).

There are also cases where a specific regulation does not recognise the use of any electronic signature for a particular type of transaction. Typically this means that you are required to use a stronger authentication method (e.g. “eID”) in connection with the electronic signature. At Scrive we help customers digitise such specific processes by implementing the required authentication method into our service.

Should you be in doubt as to what applies to your processes and documents, contact us, and we’ll sort it out together!

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Do I need to print a document with an electronic signature?

No. The PDF sealed by Scrive is the real contract, the “original”, and a print-out becomes a copy (without all of the digital evidence).

Actually, documents signed with Scrive are most secure in digital form, because any PDF signed with Scrive can be verified and tested for authenticity. From time to time you might deal with an old-fashioned company that wants you to print it, but that is not for legal reasons. They are just a little slow to get started with digital technology.

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What documents can I e-sign?

It is possible to e-sign any valid PDF document using Scrive.

We have customers signing everything from car leasing agreements, to phone contracts, to power of attorney documents. You could sign anything with Scrive, as long as the file you upload is a valid PDF (under 10MB). You can also attach other files (under 10MB each) and make it mandatory for the signing parties to view them. So, for example, if you want to sign a contract and attach the Terms & Conditions as a separate document, you can do that.

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What is an API?

API stands for ‘application programming interface’, and it is basically a way for computer systems to talk to each other. As simple as that sounds, it is a powerful tool when you want to make a world-class product or service that requires more than one app to work together.

Scrive customers have used Scrive’s API to seamlessly sign customer agreements in their app or website, or to monitor international sales data in real time, or to export their signed documents automatically. We even used our own API to build Scrive for Salesforce.

The possibilities are endless. Using our API, you get full access to every feature you need — and complete control — to build a process that suits your business.

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What is a Point of Sales (POS) system?

When you walk into a retail store to buy a phone, and the person working there is looking up your information on a terminal screen or a mobile device, that is probably a Point of Sale (POS) system. POS systems can hold the inventory and handle payments, and in many cases they generate contracts to sign. That’s where Scrive comes in.

Scrive for POS is a unique solution that doesn’t require an API integration to electronically sign contracts via POS systems. All of your POS systems can be connected to Scrive without a major technical project, and your international retail organization can be digitized in a matter of weeks, not years.

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