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Social media makes it easier than ever for people to take their friends (even hundreds of them) everywhere they go. However, when social media and employment collides, the portability of an individual's social media friends raises a complicated question: To what extent can employees take these friends or followers with them when they leave an employer? At issue is ownership of social media contacts used for business purposes.
In one case, the employer's legal team estimated the value of a single Twitter account at $42,500 per month (17,000 followers at $2.50 per follower per month).
During his employment, an employee used the Twitter account primarily to promote his employer. Among other things, the company sued the former employee for continuing to use the account after employment had terminated.
While the company argued that it instructed the employee to create the account, the employee contended that he was the one who set up the account and its password.
According to the former employee, the account is not the employer's property, in part because Twitter's "Terms of Service" indicated at the time that "all Twitter accounts are the exclusive property of Twitter and its licensors." The employee also asserted that the account's value is directly related to his tweets and people's interest in following him personally, not the company.
Cases like this one can take a while to move through the system, but employers can take an immediate lesson from this situation by considering what this employer lacked - a written agreement. In this case, even the defendant himself pointed out that his argument hinges on the fact that no written agreement spelled out the terms of the account.
Such an agreement might have:
- Established the employer as the "owner" of the account,
- Prohibited the employee from changing the account's password or handle,
- Identified the account and/or the Twitter followers as confidential or company information, and
- Clarified that the account was meant to be used for the company's benefit and not for the employee's personal benefit.
Had an agreement been in place when the account was established, the issue of ownership may have never found its way to court. As it makes its way through the legal process, this particular case may provide clarification regarding social media account ownership.
Employers would be wise to work with legal counsel to draft policies and/or agreements to protect themselves and their interests where business social media accounts are utilized.
READ MORESHOW LESS
['Employee Relations', 'Privacy and Data Security']
['Social media', 'Privacy and Data Security']
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