A blog post

Who owns your Social Media account?

Posted on the 06 February, 2012 at 6:52 pm Written by in Social Media

Who owns your Social Media account?Who owns your Social Media account? Not as simple as it seems. Summary Can an employer lay claim to an employee’s personal Social Media account? That is the question. Given the recent spate of judgements, emanating from the U.K and U.S.A it seems that the answer may well be yes! Those of you who want to know more read on. The issue of ownership If you joined me for the Social Media @ Work in November 2011, you may recall, that I specifically touched on the ownership of social media accounts when discussing the issues which need to be addressed in a social media policy. A brief look at the cases below will serve to re-enforce this need. The U.S.A Cases In the case of Kravitz V Phonedog , Noah Kravitz worked as a reviewer and blogger for PhoneDog for four years. At the time of leaving Phone dog he was the editor-in-chief. During his employment his @phonedog_noah, Twitter account achieved 17,000 followers. When he left the company, he changed the name of his account to @noahkravitz and carried on tweeting as normal. PhoneDog, alleges that Kravitz misappropriated trade secrets by changing the password and name of a Twitter account he used while employed by PhoneDog. PhoneDog has filed a suit against him for $340,000 (valuing each of the 17 000 followers at $2.50 per month over the time since he left the company). Really? Can the content of a social media account constitute a trade secret? (We’ll look at that in another post in the future). Krawitz now has a following of over 22,000 followers. The case of Eagle V Morgan concerns ownership of Dr. Eagles Linked-In account. Eagle, founded Edcomm, Inc., in 1987. In 2008, Eagle established an account on LinkedIn. Eagle sold Edcomm and she was subsequently dismissed. The new owners of Edcomm, knowing the password to Eagle’s LinkedIn account, altered the LinkedIn account so that anyone searching for Eagle was routed to a LinkedIn page which displayed the name and photograph of the new interim CEO of the Company, but reflected Eagle’s awards, recommendations and connections. Eagle regained control of her LinkedIn account a while later claiming that it belonged to her and that her former employer had acted unlawfully by fiddling with her LinkedIn account. And therein lays the rub! The Employer asserted ownership of the account on the basis that, while Edcomm was run by Eagle:
  • Edcomm implemented a policy requiring Edcomm’s employees to create and maintain LinkedIn accounts
  • Employees were required to: (a) utilize their Edcomm email address for LinkedIn accounts; (b) utilize a specific form template, created and approved by Edcomm, for their description of Edcomm, work history, and professional activities, as well as photographs taken by a professional photographer hired by Edcomm; (c) contain links to Edcomm’s website on LinkedIn accounts, as well as Edcomm’s telephone number; and (d) utilize Edcomm’s template for replying to individuals through LinkedIn.
The court held that Eagle’s LinkedIn account may not belong to her even though her name appears on the account. Thus, it seems that under the right circumstances, a LinkedIn account may not actually belong to the individual whose name appears on the account’s home page, and whose professional history and accomplishments are detailed in the account’s profile. This is an interesting development, but one that may not withstand further scrutiny, given the Court’s acceptance, without much discussion, of the notion that a LinkedIn account is a “novel” idea worthy of protection. The viability of this decision may also be impacted by the LinkedIn user agreement, which states that the “user” is the owner of the account. The Court did not address this fact in its decision, and in this case, if the company’s allegations prove to be true, the company may well be deemed to be the account “user.” http://nysbar.com/blogs/LENY/2012/01/so_you_think_you_own_your_link.html The U.K Cases The question of account ownership was also raised in a recent U.K case when it was reported that a BBC journalist, Laura Kuenssberg, took her 60,000 Twitter followers with her when she left the BBC to join a rival company ITV. Kuenssberg built up her 60,000 followers while working as a political correspondent at the BBC. She tweeted using the account @BBCLauraK. When she joined ITV, she changed the Twitter account to @ITVLauraK. This prompted reports which claimed that the BBC had lost some 60 000 followers. The reports in turn sparked a debate about who should own the account. Surely it was the employee who had created and maintained the account and built up its following and not the BBC? Not everyone agrees on this point. To quote a Blogger Tom Callow: “Many people, myself included, wanted to follow the updates of the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent (@BBCLauraK). We might be less interested in updates from the ITV’s Business Editor (@ITVLauraK). When she had earlier tweeted the details of a new separate ITV account to her then 59,000 followers, only around 1,000 of them started following the new account, which seems to support this assumption.” I think that for many employed in the Media this could be a bitter pill to swallow. The Lesson Regulate ownership of Social Media accounts by way of a well drafted social media policy. If the Company has a vested interest in maintaining ownership of an employees social media account then, on this point, the policy should provide:
  • that the business owns the account;
  • that the employee has no right to use the account after termination of employment;
  • that the employee must turn over the account upon termination of employment; and
  • that only the employer is allowed to change account names and settings.
(Social Media Esq. Social Media for Attorneys, Lawyers and Legal professionals 28 Jan 2012) And Finally  Do you have a well crafted Social Media policy?

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