Category: Social Media

Keep Your Nose Out of Employee Posts

Social Media is an evolving medium, as are the ethics and laws surrounding it.  Take a look at new legislation in California, the leader in freedoms and safeguards for employees, to see where things are headed.  Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown signed two privacy laws protecting employees and students from bosses and universities wanting to snoop on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts, on September 27, 2012.

You can read the news article on CNet News.

Who Owns the Social Media Account?

We know that much of the world of social media is like the Wild West of yore.  Eventually laws were developed which tamed the west.  We’re waiting for lawsuits, current and future, to wind their way into and through the courts to tame this new frontier.  Until that happens, there’s no telling what complexities and conflicts will arise, and how it will resolve.  Beware, it’s a dangerous landscape without forethought.

My partner, Jennifer Ellis, is widely known for her expertise regarding social media use in the practice of law, social media marketing, and the intersection of technology and ethics for lawyers.  As a result, our firm does a considerable amount of consulting work related to all facets of social media.  We both monitor a great number of news sources to try to stay on top of this topic.  And we both blog and prevent seminars on this topic.

One source of information I read regularly is HR Hero.  They cover a myriad of human resource-related topics.  This is yet another business management area that remains fluid due to federal, state and sometimes local regulatory changes.  It’s important to stay on top of this in order to avoid liability.  A recent article entitled “Social Media Ownership: A Look at Three Cases” caught my attention because it reports on recent cases which touch both areas.

In Sasqua Group, Inc. v. Courtney, a 2010 New York district court case , the court decision makes it very difficult to protect client lists and other lists such as Facebook friends, as trade secrets.  Marketing professionals have long advised that the most valuable pieces of intellectual property a firm or company can develop are well-maintained marketing-related lists.  Clients.  Prospects.  Industry CEOs. All sorts of  lists.  But now that it’s so easy to develop sophisticated lists utilizing readily available tools and the internet, it’s hard to make a case that a list rises to the level of a protected trade secret.  At least according to this case.

In Eagle v. Morgan, pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the court will rule on a wide number of issues related to ownership of a LinkedIn page and its connections.  Does the company own the page, or the individual who establishes it?  If the company sells and the individual doesn’t work for the new company, can the new owner take the page over and continue to use it?  Was that part of the sale?

In PhoneDog v. Kravitz, which is pending in the Northern District of California, the court will be wrestling with the concept of putting a price tag on Twitter followers.  A proposed $2.50 per, according to the plaintiff.  With 17,000 followers at issue, a hefty $340,000 in damages is at stake.  Certainly not chump change.

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg.  They are important considerations for both your firm, as well as for your clients.  Certainly the evolving case law will take time to clarify and tame this new frontier.  But in the meanwhile, neither you nor your clients can afford to ignore or avoid the most significant paradigm shift in communications in decades.  So it’s important that you ensure your firm has a well-written computer, internet and social media use policy in place at your firm.  The last thing you want is to wind up becoming the plaintiff or defendant in the next encountered conflict over who owns what.

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