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.
- Grandfathered Twitter Accounts
- Twitter Account Already Established, But Employee Has Agreed That Twitter Will Be Part Of His Job
- Twitter Accounts Set Up While An Employee Is Working At A Company
- The Employee Is The Official Social Media Marketer For The Company
- 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?
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