• Who Owns Social Media Accounts Used by Employees for Business Purposes?
  • June 14, 2012
  • Law Firm: Business Technology Law Group - Columbia Office
  • Although employees have a right to protect their personal social media accounts, who owns those accounts that are established by an employee for business purposes, such as on LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter?  A new line of cases regarding ownership of these accounts are arising in the court system.

    Linda Eagle v. Edcomm, Inc., a case out of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was brought by Eagle after her former employer disabled her access to her LinkedIn account upon her termination.   Edcomm claims that it had a company policy which required that all employees maintain a LinkedIn account.  Each employee was required to use the company email address, to use a specific template created by Edcomm, and to include a link to Edcomm’s website on their LinkedIn account.   Edcomm monitored the content of these accounts and required that departing employees turn over access to the accounts upon termination.   Subsequent to her termination Eagle sued Edcomm, asserting eleven causes of action, including violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Lanham Act, invasion of privacy by misappropriation and conversion.  Edcomm countersued Eagle on a number of counts, including misappropriation of trade secrets.   The court has denied the motions to dismiss and discovery is ongoing.

    PhoneDog v. Noah Kravitz, a case out of the Northern District of California, was brought by PhoneDog due to defendant’s refusal to turn over his Twitter account upon his termination of employment.   PhoneDog provided both the password and the handle to the defendant for the purpose of promoting the employer’s business.   PhoneDog sued Kravitz for misappropriation of trade secrets, intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage and conversion.  The court denied a number of the motions to dismiss and the case is ongoing.

    Ardis Health LLC v. Ashleigh Nakivell, a case out of the Southern District of New York, was brought by Ardis Health against its former employee for her refusal to provide various passwords and account information upon her termination.   Nakivell was hired by Ardis to market company products, through the use of various channels including websites, blogs and social media accounts.   Ardis had its employees execute written agreements providing that all work product created by employees during their employment belonged to Ardis.  The court in this case found that Ardis owned the rights to all information related to the websites, blogs and social media accounts and Nakivell was required to turn all such information over to Ardis.

    Until these cases are litigated and court decisions are issued, if an employer expects to maintain the rights to social media accounts used for business purposes by their employees, employers should consider having all employees execute express, written agreements assigning such accounts and information to the employer.