David Leonhardt’s SEO and Social Media Marketing

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Who owns your Twitter account?

So here is a legal conundrum.  You’ve been active on a number of social media websites, such as Twitter, FaceBook or Digg.  You have amassed a number of friends and followers and built a certain amount of credibility.  You leave your job – take a better position elsewhere, move to another city, get laid off or fired – doesn’t matter the reason.

Who owns your Twitter account?  Your FaceBook account?  Etc.

I thought it was a very straightforward question, too.  If it’s in your name, it’s yours.  If it’s in the company’s name, it’s the company’s.  Period. Or maybe not period.  Maybe question mark.

A legal viewpoint has been sought and diligently reported on by Glenn Gabe.  The comments, which are not to be taken as legal advice, came from lawyer Mike Pisauro.  He covered five scenarios, which I’ll list here but you can go to the original post to read the details.

  1. Grandfathered Twitter Accounts
  2. Twitter Account Already Established, But Employee Has Agreed That Twitter Will Be Part Of His Job
  3. Twitter Accounts Set Up While An Employee Is Working At A Company
  4. The Employee Is The Official Social Media Marketer For The Company
  5. The Employee Is The Official Social Media Marketer And Has Set Up The Account As Part Of The Marketing Effort

For what it’s worth, I think a key point is missing.  In whose name is the account set up?  Let’s take a scenario where Mary Wilkins is hired to do communications for ACME . and she is told that she needs to tweet nice things about the company, but to set it up in her name, not in the company’s name.  There are a number of reasons ACME might want her to tweet in her own name, rather than the company’s.

  • They might be trying to avoid liability for what an employee might publicly say.
  • They might want her comments to have an air of objectivity.
  • They might not want to be held to anything she tweets.
  • Thjey might want people to connect with a real human being, not an impersonal company.

All these reasons have one common element – they all imply that the company does not want to be associated with the account.  They all are purposeful actions to refuse ownership of the account.  I have a very hard time believing, legal genius that I am not, that any court would be able to ignore that fact if the real owner — the employee — articulated that argument well.

On the other hand, if the account was set up in the company’s name by the employee, overtly being the ACME account, I cannot imagine for a moment that a court would award ownership of the account to the employee.

The only place I see as being murky is if the account is personal in the person’s name and that person is the official spokesperson for the company and promoted as such.  For isnstance if a Twitter account is @MaryWilkins and the ACME logo is used as the background.  Situations 4 and 5 above could fall into that class.

Of course, my legal opinion and a dime will buy you a drink at the public water fountain, so if you are a) hiring someone who will be running social media accounts on your behalf or b) being hired by a company wanting you to run its social media accounts, get the prenuptials down in writing ahead of time.

So now, the real burning legal issue:

Q: Who owns the Twitter account?
A: Twitter.

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67 Responses to “Who owns your Twitter account?”

  1. Ecommerce Design (1 comments) Says:

    No matter how you slice it, Twitter owns all Twitter accounts at the end of the day.

  2. Ventrilo Servers (1 comments) Says:

    Well, I think even if twitter owns it, with thousands of users… they would not find anything to do with it. Even if they own your tweets, they wont anything that is linked outside twitter like your blog posts.

  3. Coffee maker (1 comments) Says:

    In the end I think Twitter owns them but will twitter try to police them. For example I take IBM and the company IBM wants it! Does Twitter take action?

    Should be interesting….

  4. VHwriter (1 comments) Says:

    Interesting post. In my opinion, if a company wants an employee to post tweets about company news, announcements, etc., they should register their company name. Registering in an employee's name might be a mistake. For one, the employee might just use the account for his/her own personal purpose later–which I don't think is necessarily the fault of the employee. After all, the account is under his/her name. The company may have a claim, but still, it's the employee's name being used.

  5. Bob Raven (1 comments) Says:

    I think if you built the list of friends on your companies hours and you were paid for those hours then the account should be owned by the company.

  6. Saddles For Sale (2 comments) Says:

    Twitter is over rated it only works well for establihed brands and the darker industries

  7. Phillip Ed (1 comments) Says:

    Interesting! I never thought about such legal issues in tweeting

  8. Tim (3 comments) Says:

    Unregulated always goes regulated some day and if Twitter can make a dollar out of regulating the names they should and will do it. The tipping point will come when we pay and bid for the names we want and expect to pay. Just wait you will see

  9. bestregistrycleaner (2 comments) Says:

    I think the primary factor is the one who set up the account. And as others says, if someone uses its personal e-mail to set up an account then they absolutely owns it. Its up to them what they want to do on the account since they own it.

  10. Tim (3 comments) Says:

    I don't think that really can be policed by employers……why would they want to pursue that? I think lawsuits in this venue fall into the "frivolous" file.

  11. Thin Thighs (1 comments) Says:

    This is the real question now, as people are actually selling their twitter handle. Like the one @drew, where supposedly Drew Carey himself is bidding for… a whopping $100,000.

  12. Tiens shop (2 comments) Says:

    This is definately an interesting post.I think the person who created the Twitter site is the owner of it.so for me the owner is twitter.

  13. Posicionamiento web (2 comments) Says:

    Wow lot’s of very interesting different Twitter ownership scenarios here. I’m so glad I work for myself and don’t have to worry about my company trying to claim ownership of my Twitter account. he he. 😉

  14. saddle for sale (1 comments) Says:

    In regards to the matter of a company employing someone and getting them to start one of these social media accounts I believe that the account would belong to the company – however only if that was apart of the job description and therefore they were being paid to do so.

  15. Steve Lareney (1 comments) Says:

    I think the account should belong to the person that created it. Its kind of like a condo – you own the unit but you sorta don't own the common space but you have a voice. I love facebook and playing games on facebook. Have you seen this website about mafia wars strategy, it is where I got some of my strategy tips for the game.

  16. Gary (2 comments) Says:

    Maybe its best to have 2 twitter accounts, on ein business name and ones own personal twitter acount, would this solve it!!

  17. Sarah (1 comments) Says:

    Another question is how many people have sold their twitter accounts to someone else because they were tired tweeting… You could be getting tweets from a stranger…

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