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Social-networking content ownership can end in company vs. employee tussles

Ellen Mesmmer | July 9, 2013
Legal battles erupting over LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Edcomm, co-founded by Dr. Eagle, had been acquired by another firm, Sawabeh Information Services Company. Prior to her involuntary termination, Dr. Eagle had shared her password to the LinkedIn account with some Edcomm employees, according to court documents, for purposes said to include handling invitations and updating. After her departure, Edcomm employees accessed her account and changed its password,effectively locking her out.

In March of this year, the court ended up backing Dr. Eagle's claim of "misappropriation" of the LinkedIn account. But the court did not agree with Dr. Eagle's claim that the defendant Edcomm had committed identity theft, nor that the account was hijacked, nor that she has satisfactorily established facts about monetary damages. But the court agreed she had standing for punitive damages from Edcomm.

It's cases like this that have law firms riveted and trying to figure out wherecourts are liable to side on these issues. This isn't the only kind of battlegoing on between employees and companies over social-networking sites, saysBrill.

Companies are encouraging employees to set up Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and are finding the content goes far outside the bounds of what they would have hoped.

"They may be releasing stuff the company doesn't want released," says Brill. This has become a global issue for corporations that aren't keeping track of what happens in far-flung locales in which they operate. Sometimes individuals simply take it upon themselves to handle business-related social-networking without their employers being aware of what's going on, setting sites up under their personal name. The problemsarise when employers try to take control of these sites. There are so manycomplicating legal issues, such as the myriad prohibitions in state law,including California, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey, aboutgetting social media passwords from employees, Brill points out.

And there are questions as to whether an individual with a Twitter account used for business has some kind of ownership over all those Twitter followers, if there was no agreement about this to begin with. There was a long-running court battle on this issue called PhoneDog LLC v. Kravitz , but it ultimately offered no clear guidance becauseit was settled out of court earlier this year.

 

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