01/04/2012 12:27:00 PM EST
Are Employees' LinkedIn Contacts Considered Your Trade Secrets?
Over the past several weeks, you probably read about this
case involving a company suing one of its former employees whom it alleges
misappropriated a Twitter account and, along with it, 17,000 Twitter followers
that the company believes it owns. A video about
the case follows below:
Late last month, I learned of another case (h/t TechDirt), in which a former high-level executive and her
prior employer are currently duking it out to see who owns the connections on
the executive's LinkedIn page.
A fight over LinkedIn connections.
The case is Eagle v. Morgan. You can find a copy of Ms.
Eagle's complaint here.
And the defendants' counterclaim complaint here.
Here are the basic facts according to the pleadings that
the parties filed:
Linda Eagle is the former founder of Edcomm, Inc.
Eagle created a LinkedIn page -- this
one, actually -- which she used to promote both herself and Edcomm.
of the defendants assisted Dr. Eagle in maintaining her account and had
access to Dr. Eagle's LinkedIn password.
was sold and Dr. Eagle was fired.
new owners changed Dr. Eagle's LinkedIn password, removed Dr. Eagle's name
and picture from the LinkedIn page, and represented that she had resigned.
They left all other information the same. (Dr. Eagle has since regained
control of her LinkedIn page).
The defendants claim that Dr. Eagle's LinkedIn
connections belong to them and that Dr. Eagle effectively stole those
connections. The defendants also claim that Dr. Eagle now reaps the benefit of
the time and effort that the defendants previously put into maintaining her LinkedIn
account. (The new owners contend that former employees of Edcomm were required
to utilize an Edcomm template when creating LinkedIn accounts, use an Edcomm
email address, and permit Edcomm to monitor their Linkedin pages).
In October, Dr. Eagle filed a motion for judgment on the
pleadings. Effectively, she asked the court to apply the law solely to the
facts pled in the defendants' counterclaim complaint and her response. Below, I
address whether Dr. Eagle stole company trade secrets.
LinkedIn connections are not trade secrets.
To qualify as a trade secret, the subject information
must not be generally known in the wider business community or capable of being
easily derived from public information. Put another way, trade secrets must be
particular secrets of the complaining employer and not general secrets of the
trade in which the employer is engaged.
The court held here
that LinkedIn account connections do not qualify as trade secrets, because they
are generally known in the wider business community or are capable of being
easily derived from public information. Think about how many 1st
degree connections Dr. Eagle may have on LinkedIn with employees at Edcomm.
Each of those 1st degree connections can see all of Dr. Eagle's other 1st
degree connections. Heck, I went on to Dr. Eagle's LinkedIn page and could see
that she was a 2nd
degree contact of mine. Consequently, I could determine our common
For more on why LinkedIn contacts are not trade secrets,
check out Heather Bussing's post at HRExaminer: It's No Secret: Why Contacts Aren't Trade Secrets.\
This article was originally published on Eric B. Meyer's blog,
more information about LexisNexis products and solutions connect with us through
our corporate site.