Who owns a Twitter or Facebook account used by an employee to market an employer’s products or services? Is that account owned by the employer or employee? What happens when the employee decides to leave and go to another company?
This is just the situation that is under consideration in California in the case PhoneDog v. Kravitz, 2012 WL 273323 (N.D. Cal. 2012).). In the PhoneDog case, the employer, PhoneDog, LLC, a provider of news on mobile devices, hired Kravitz as a product reviewer. Kravitz sent information out to PhoneDog customers through Twitter and Facebook accounts and other social media accounts he created, using PhoneDog as part of the name of the account names.
When Kravitz decided to leave PhoneDog, Kravitz took the social media accounts with him, changing the names on the accounts to his own name. PhoneDog sued Kravitz for misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion, interference with prospective economic advantage, and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage. PhoneDog is asking the court to be compensated for $2.50 for each user on the accounts, or about $34,000.
While the PhoneDog case may be an easier one for the courts to decide based up0n the fact that Kravitz was hired to market PhoneDog and the social media accounts initially included the PhoneDog company name, we can probably expect to see more and more of these cases in the near future.
So what steps can employers take to protect themselves? While there is no precedent set yet, the following steps are recommended per Maureen Minehan of the employment alert:
- Address social media ownership in contracts and policies
- Update non solicitation agreements
- Actively manage social media
- Distribute the work
- Focus on the brand
For more information on social media, blogging and all other commercial transaction issues, contact Chris Pothering at firstname.lastname@example.org.