Employer Sues For Rights To Former Employee’s Twitter Feed
A mobile device retailer’s lawsuit against its former employee, Noah Kravitz, raises a novel legal question about who owns a Twitter account used by an employee to comment about both personal and work topics. The employer, PhoneDog Media L.L.C., which also maintains a website and blog with reviews and news about mobile devices, alleges that Kravitz improperly kept using a company Twitter account which had accumulated more than 17,000 followers.
Formerly known as @PhoneDogNoah when he worked for the company, Kravitz has since changed his Twitter name, and now simply goes by @NoahKravitz. PhoneDog’s suit says that, despite leaving the company on good terms in 2010, Kravitz stole the company’s customer list with his Twitter account. Kravitz counters that he was told he could keep the account after leaving his employment, as long as he tweeted about PhoneDog upon occasion. PhoneDog is seeking damages of $2.50 per Twitter follower per month for the months since Kravitz’s employment ended.
This story has attracted significant media attention. Additionally, a new website and Twitter account, @SaveNoah, were created by Kravitz’s supporters in response to the lawsuit. According to www.SaveNoahKravitz.com, PhoneDog’s lawsuit is in retaliation for an earlier lawsuit by Kravitz over unpaid wages owed to him by the company. The site adds that Kravitz was an established blogger before being hired, and started the @PhoneDogNoah Twitter account himself, not per any company agreement. The site claims that if Kravitz loses his legal fight, they will give him the @SaveNoah account to start over, and asks everyone to follow it. On the Save Noah site, followers have posted comments supportive of Kravitz and critical of the company. One supporter encourages others to exile PhoneDog from social media circles because its lawsuit goes against the values of social networking.
PhoneDog provided a statement to the New York Times that “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 intend to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.”
As there is no precedent for this type of dispute, both employers and bloggers will be watching the outcome of the case closely. Regardless of who wins, the dispute serves as a good lesson to all employers to clearly document their policies and expectations for their employees’ use of social media.
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