Thursday, January 5, 2012

B.A.F.F.L.E.D. Legal Battles

Is this your Twitter account?!

If your Twitter account is yours--personally, then the answer to this question is obvious.  But, if you're tweeting as part of your job, for a corporation or organization, the answer is not quite so simple.  

As Twitter has become more popular, surely companies are having their social media employees sign documents stating the accounts belong to the company.  You work there, and you're just tweeting on their behalf, not as yourself.  However, this is a fairly new practice, as the advancement of the internet and social media is calling for rapid changes to business practices.  Not too long ago, and probably even still, employees may have been tweeting for their company, but under their own control and command.  This has created a major issue, and even spurred legal action.  Who owns the tweets and account when the unbound tweeter leaves?  The company?  The tweeter?

Recently, PhoneDog, a technology website sued former employee Noah Kravitz.  The site claims Kravitz took the Twitter account with him, which contained both their names - @PhoneDog_Noah.  Noah tweeted on behalf of the company, but the account was tied to his personal email.  In the lawsuit, PhoneDog said, "The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C. We intent to aggressively protect out customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands."  They are seeking damages of $340,000 -- $2.20 a month for every follower for the 8 months Kravitz continued using the PhoneDog-tied handle.  He left, so did the account, and so did the followers; 17,000 of them.

But who truly "owns the followers"?  Kravtiz for gaining them through his tweets?  Or PhoneDog, because their name was behind it?

Kravitz said when he left the company, they agreed he could keep the Twitter handle, as long as he tweeted about PhoneDog from time to time.  This may not have been the best decision on either part, especially without something in writing.  He now writes for a new tech site, so this presents even more of an issue in PhoneDog's eyes.  Since the lawsuit, Kravitz has changed his Twitter name-- @noahkravitz--a big help in stopping the confusion.  As the case goes on, some of the things which will be made clear include intellectual property ownership, social media account handling, and best practices for keeping personal and professional social networking separate.  

Surely we'll be watching this one for updates.  It'll set quite a precedent and be a sign of the times.

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