By: Donna Ray Berkelhammer
Could this happen to your Twitter account after you amicably leave your job:
"The costs and resources invested by ON A WING AND A PRAYER PRODUCT
GROUP into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness
through social media
are substantial and are considered property of the Company. We intend
to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential
information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.
That's why we are suing you for misappropriation of our customer list
and other trade secrets (aka your Twitter followers). Please pay us
$2.50 per follower per month of your unauthorized use."
The first case to address whether a Twitter account is a corporate
asset and how to value the account has been filed in federal court.
Initial hearings are later this month.
It's an important case because as more and more employees post material on Facebook, LinkedIn and
Twitter-often on behalf of their companies - the social media account
becomes increasingly more valuable to both employer and employee. The
company gets an online voice and brand, and the employee makes often
significant personal connections that can impact his career.
In Phonedog v. Kravitz,
an employee voluntarily quit a technology review company. At
separation, he was permitted to keep his Twitter account with 17,000
followers, but was asked to occasionally tweet about the company and
continue to provide content for blogs and reviews. At some point he
changed his Twitter name to delete the name of the company. The
relationship later soured, with the employee filing suit for unpaid
benefits and compensation, and the company contending that the former
employee misappropriated the company's Twitter account and followers,
and cost the company thousands of dollars in lost advertising and sales.
Without delving into the details of this particular case, here are
some reasons a Twitter account could legitimately belong to an employer:
Reasons the account could legitimately belong to the employee:
If you are not hearing my subtext, a social media policy is more crucial than ever. But there are significant hidden issues in the areas of labor and employment law, intellectual property protection and public relations/disaster recovery. This is a good time to spend money on an attorney.
Stay tuned for more insight into social media policy.
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