As more and more companies leverage social media as a marketing tool, tricky issues might soon arise such as: who owns the actual corporate Twitter account? On one hand, an employee who manages the account is the one who builds the following and tweets the messages.
But if this position is a social media marketer, should the Twitter account actually be owned by the company?
These are the types of questions that may soon be analyzed in an upcoming case involving Noah Kravitz, an ex-employee of a company called PhoneDog. Kravitz worked as a reviewer and a blogger for the company and established a Twitter account, called @PhoneDog_Noah. When he quit, he kept the account and changed the handle to @noahkravitz.
During his time at PhoneDog, Kravitz established 17,000 followers. It's no wonder that the company has sued, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets, interference with economic advantage, and conversion. Who owns the rights to the Twitter account seems to be a central issue.
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this debate. In fact, it may depend on the role of the employee and whether or not they already had an existing account.
- Those with an established Twitter account: Here, it seems more likely that the followers are actually "owned" by the employee. They already had an established relationship.
- Those without an established Twitter account: In this scenario, it seems more likely that the entire account is owned by the business.
But there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to Twitter ownership if there is no preexisting agreement.
Given the gray legal area surrounding corporate Twitter account ownership, it seems like to avoid a scenario like PhoneDog's it might be prudent to address the issue up front. Write in exactly who has ownership of the account in an employment contract. It might avoid a future Twitter custody battle.
- Who 'Owns' A Twitter Account: Employer Or Employee? (TechDirt)
- Own Your Tweets, You Earned Them. (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Twitter Defamation: Can Your Business Sue? (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)