Simon Says: Does a scanned copy of a contract have legal validity?

This is the twenty-second in a weekly series of legal advice provided in a short and entertaining story format.


Keywords: Contract in writing, Evidence, Original, Scanned, faxed and photocopied copy 



Does a scanned copy of a contract have legal validity?


Jack is the owner of a furniture company. Recently, one of his manufacturers, Alex, went bankrupt and the creditors burnt down his factory, threatening to kill him if he couldn’t pay up.


Threatened by the mafias, Alex went to his debtors one by one to ask them to pay earlier at a discounted price, in order to settle his own debts. When Alex came to Jack, the sly guy had an idea.


Jack questioned, “What debt? I promised to pay the money after receiving all the shipments.”


Alex pleaded, “Come on. You can just pay half for the furniture you received. The mafia creditors will kill me and my family if I don’t get enough money. My factory is burnt down, and I cannot produce anything.”


Knowing that the contract was also probably burnt, Jack decided to play dumb. He had already received most of the furniture, so 50% off wasn’t enough. He wanted the furniture 100% off. If both contracts were nowhere to be found, there would be no evidence of a deal. “How much do I owe you? Show me the contract. I lost my orginal.”


“My original is gone; it was burnt in the fire. I have a scanned copy in our server, and the original amount you owe me is a million.” Alex replied.


“Scanned copy is no good. I am not paying a penny. Try going to court to see if the judge will believe a scanned copy.” Jack sneered and pushed Alex away.


So does a scanned copy have legal validity?



Prof Simon Says:


Yes, Validity comes from substance, not form. A scanned copy shall serve as a kind of evidence.


Although an original, being a primary evidence, holds higher validity than a photocopied, faxed or scanned one, a copy, among with other evidence, is still considered by the court if originals are gone.


According to China Contract law, contracts in writing are considered as written evidence, a form of direct and primary evidence bearing the highest validity. Under China Civil Procedural Law, a photocopied, faxed or scanned copy can be considered a form of secondary evidence if the originals are lost. A scanned copy shall not be admitted as primary evidence and additional evidence, such as delivery note, shall also be produced as a court will not admit an unapproved scanned copy as primary evidence. Unless Jack can destroy Alex’s servers and all other evidences as well, he should consider the discounted offer.


Simon Says - Episode 22: Does a scanned copy of a contract have legal validity?



For more about this or to contact Professor Simon Choi at, +86 13823677853 or by WeChat: simonhkchoi. 


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"This article was originally written in Chinese by Mr Huanyu Li and rewritten into English by Simon Choi."


Simon Choi

About the Author: Professor Simon Choi

Prof Simon Choi, solicitor and linguist, is an international lawyer, qualified to practise law in England & Wales and in Hong Kong, China. Simon graduated from law schools of the Peking University, the University of London and the University of Hong Kong respectively, with an in-depth knowledge of Chinese laws and common laws and with more than 20 years experience in China practice and international trade, investment, finance, merger & acquisition. He is an adjunct professor of laws at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law. Simon is the founding partner of Acme Ardent and can be reached at or +86 13823677853.

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26 Jul 2017

By Simon Choi

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