When an employee creates and maintains a social media account on behalf of his/her employer, what happens to the account(s) when the employee is terminated or resigns?
The world is closely watching a federal case in the Northern District of California where a mobile news and reviews resource company, Phonedog, is suing a former employee Noah Kravitz (or independent contractor, depending on what news report you read) over who owns a Twitter account that was started in association with PhoneDog, and is now being used by Kravitz as his own Twitter account. The issues drawing so much attention include who owns a social media account – the employee who posts on it, or the employer on whose behalf the employee was posting. The other issue is what value, if any, can be placed on Twitter followers (or, by analogy Facebook likes), when social media attracts people who are portable and not “owned” by the social media account.
The crux of the lawsuit is that Kravitz was paid as a product reviewer and video blogger for PhoneDog from April 2006 through October 2010, and that this position included posting tweets on a Twitter account called @PhoneDog_Noah. After Kravitz left PhoneDog, he changed the name of the account to @noahkravitz, and kept its followers instead of relinquishing the account and its followers over to PhoneDog as was requested of him.
In general, companies should to the greatest extent possible register social media accounts in their own names or through a senior marketing person and/or social media manager if the account needs to be in the name of a person. Further, on social media accounts such as Facebook pages, where you can have more than one administrator, companies should take advantage of this option and have several administrators. Having several administrators, and asserting control over the account, is another way to demonstrate “ownership” of the account, and also avoid some of the problems experienced by PhoneDog.
If you are an employer with questions about issues regarding your employees, past and present, the Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to competent, licensed and insured attorneys who specifically represent employers. Call 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.