May 2012 Bar Bulletin
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May 2012 Bar Bulletin

Anti-Social Media: Who Owns the Accounts?

By Matthew King


We all seem to have some form of social media account, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+. As part of that incredible demand for social media, advertisers and companies are also clamoring for our attention on our pages.

It is estimated that 2012 will be the first year that money spent on online advertising will exceed spending on print advertising. But what happens when the two worlds collide? Who "owns" the account?

In 2011, the personal/business worlds collided in a Pennsylvania lawsuit. The plaintiff co-founded Edcomm in 1987 to provide financial and banking services. In 2008, she established a LinkedIn account to "promote Edcomm's banking education services, foster her business reputation, reconnect with family, friends and associates, and build social and professional relationships."

In October 2010, another company purchased Edcomm and the plaintiff stayed on as an employee, but was ultimately terminated in 2011. After she was terminated, she could not access her LinkedIn account because Edcomm employees accessed her account and changed the password. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff's account profile was modified to display the name and picture of Edcomm's interim CEO, but with plaintiff's honors and awards, recommendations and connections.

Plaintiff presented several causes of action, including violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), violation of the Lanham Act, violation of state statutes governing identity theft, invasion of privacy, misappropriation of publicity, conversion, tortious interference with a contract, civil conspiracy, and civil aiding and abetting.

Edcomm, however, filed a counterclaim, alleging that while under plaintiff's management, Edcomm actually implemented a policy requiring Edcomm's employees to create and maintain LinkedIn accounts. Edcomm employees then monitored these LinkedIn accounts, corrected any violations of Edcomm policy, and maintained accounts for several employees for the benefit of Edcomm.

Despite this policy, the court recently dismissed all of Edcomm's claims except those for conversion and misappropriation of the LinkedIn account.

Both employers and social media users should be paying attention. Companies should take affirmative steps now, before the issue becomes a problem to clearly define the employer's rights in social media accounts.

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