As the use of social media continues to grow, many companies may be wondering who owns an employee’s social media account, particularly when it is used for business purposes. A trade secret lawsuit currently pending in California will likely shed light on the issue.
The Facts of the Case
Phone Dog Media filed the lawsuit against its former website writer Noah Kravitz after he left the company in October 2010. The dispute centers on his Twitter name “Phonedog_Noah” (tied to his personal email) and its 17,000 followers, which he took with him when he left.
Phone Dog contends that it is the rightful owner of the Twitter account, characterizing it as a proprietary customer list. The company is seeking damages of $340,000, which amounts to $2.50 a month for every follower for the eight months Kravitz used the Twitter handle.
Meanwhile, Kravitz contends that the company told him that he could keep the “Phonedog_Noah” account in exchange for tweeting for the company “from time to time.” He further claims that Phone Dog filed the trade secret lawsuit in retaliation for his claim to 15 percent of the site’s gross advertising revenue because of his position as a vested partner, the New York Times reports.
The Legal Ramification of the Case
Because social media ownership is such a novel issue, the court’s decision promises to have broad legal ramifications. In addition to shedding light on how ownership should be determined, it may also dictate how the value of Facebook friends and Twitter followers should be calculated.
I will, of course, keep you updated.