When you leave a company, it’s expected that you’ll turn in your keys, the password to your computer and any proprietary information you might be carrying around.
But what about your Twitter account? In the case of an employee whose job it is to update the company Twitter, it’s an easy call. It’s not so easy when you’re talking about journalists or other Tweeters who blur the line between business and personal.
Such a case is currently being tested in court, but it’s not going so well for either side. The case in question is between PhoneDog and Noah Kravitz, who used to work for them as a reporter. The object of desire is a Twitter account with 17,000 followers formerly known as @PhoneDog_Noah.
When Noah left PhoneDog, he changed the name on the Twitter account and kept on posting for himself. PhoneDog sued, claiming that they own the rights to the account and the password is a “trade secret” which Kravitz was obligated to divulge when he left the company.
The court agrees, sort of. They had an option to dismiss the case outright, but they didn’t. Chief Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James declared that both sides of the case had merit and she didn’t have enough information to proceed. You can read the legalese here, if you’re so inclined.
Before we go any further, let’s relish in the fact that ten years ago the only way a judge would say the word Tweet was if it was a case about bird smuggling. Oh, the times they are a changin’ and that means the law has some catching up to do. Until it does, business owners need to take steps to protect themselves.
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What to do if. . .
If you have employees or contractors who update social media on your behalf, be sure you have not just the passwords to the accounts, but in the case of Facebook, that you’re an admin on your pages.
If you have employees that combine personal and work Tweets (as I do on my own account), I’d say you’re out of luck. Consider every Tweet they sent about your company a gift and let it go.
On the Tweeter side, it’s a tough call. I’ve been there. I built up a Twitter account that was named for a blog I wrote but didn’t own. When the company shut down the blog, I mourned the loss of all those followers and it wasn’t until months later that I realized my mistake. I could have (should have?) changed the name on the Twitter and kept those followers for myself. After all, they came because I brought them in, right? Still, it did feel a little like stealing. The only saving grace here was that the company in question had no interest in the Twitter account. I know now that they made a big mistake.
PhoneDog has attempted to quantify their loss by saying that each of Kravitz’s followers is worth $2.50 per month, making their claim worth $340,000. Even the court rolled its eyes at the idea that they’ve been financially injured by the loss. No court is going to award them that much money for a Twitter account.
On the other hand, a healthy Twitter account is a valuable asset. In the end, I’d bet the court is going to make Kravitz hand over the keys. I’d also bet that in another twenty years, social media accounts will be quantifiable assets truly worth fighting over.