By: Christopher M. Mason
“Social media has proven its value as a powerful tool for businesses by creating inexpensive global platforms for marketing products and services, soliciting feedback, and strengthening customer connections. Yet the very social media accounts used to promote a business may not belong to it. Ownership rights to social media accounts used to promote a company have been contested by former employees who created, maintained, and produced content for those accounts. To maintain control over their social media, companies should develop policies and agreements affirming ownership over their social media, while guiding employees who manage them.
Most businesses understandably assume that they own their social media accounts, overlooking the need for right of ownership agreements. However, a company does not inherently own the social media accounts developed by its employees, even if those accounts have a connection to the company. Some courts have even proclaimed that social media accounts created at an employer’s behest, using the employer’s name, and maintained at the instruction of the employer, still remained the property of the departing employee absent an appropriate agreement. In one case, an employer sued a former employee who continued to use a Twitter account previously used to promote the company. During his employment, the employee had amassed over 17,000 followers of the account. When he departed the company, the employee simply changed the Twitter handle, dropping his former employer’s connection to the account. The employer claimed that the account and followers belonged to the company. Similar lawsuits have been filed by both employers and employees concerning an employee’s rights over LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media accounts. ”
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