Monday, December 10, 2012

Who owns the Social Media Account, the Employer or Employee?
When an employee attorney leaves a law firm, there are many issues to consider. Among the most important is protecting the interests of the firm and the exiting lawyer’s clients. For example, all of the exiting lawyer’s client’s files are notified that their attorney is leaving, and they should be given the option of remaining with the lawyer, the firm or any other counsel of the client’s choosing.

 But does this law apply to social media such as a company’s Facebook  Friends and Twitter Followers-i.e., when an employee leaves a law firm, can he or she take the company’s social media fans? Asked another way, does the employer or employee own the social media account?

In the case Phonedog v. Kravits also known as the  PhoneDog Twitter case, an employer sued its former employee who took over the Company’s Twitter account (which he started), by changing the Twitter handle (name on the account), password, and taking all 17,000 followers with him. The blog Employment Law Daily reports that Phonedog asserted claims of misappropriation and conversion, intentional and negligent interference with a prospective economic management, and mismanagement of trade secrets, proprietary and confidential information. Phonedog even calculated that it suffered $340,000 in damages because each twitter follower is valued at $2.50 a month. By the way, your Facebook Privacy is worth only $10.

Phonedog employed Kravits as a product reviewer/blogger. Granted, Kravits was not an attorney but his job description paralleled to that of a law firm attorney in that he obtained future clients through the company’s Twitter account. A court never decided whether Kravit's job description was enough for Phonedog to keep the twitter account. The two parties eventually settled the matter for undisclosed terms. But if we want to see how a court ruled on a similar matter we look to the Eagle v. Moran case.

In Eagle v. Moran, a similar social media case involving LinkedIn where the company changed the employer’s LinkedIn account, password, and display after she acquired connections, the court dismissed the employer’s federal statutory claims but refused to dismiss her state law misappropriation claims. Further, the court ruled that LinkedIn connections are not company trade secrets

However the blog Employer Handbook gave some insightful advice when it comes to how to deal with the ownership of corporate social media accounts:
1.       Write a strong social media specific agreement which clearly indicates the rights and expectations of the company and its employee. The more social-media language it contains, the better. Most importantly, spell out who owns the account.
2.       The company should register the account so that it has some ownership stake within the account. Also consider the terms of use that any social-media company has in place for end users.
3.       3. Change the password when employees leave. This will reduce the risk that the employee lock’s you out of your account.

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