In 2006 Noah Kravitz went to work for Phonedog, a news site specializing in mobile phone related news. During his four years as a writer for Phonedog, his Twitter profile, Phonedog_Noah, picked up 17,000 followers. When he left the company last October, he was told that he could keep the account, provided he tweeted about Phonedog once in a while. When he left, Kravitz changed the profile’s name to NoahKravitz, and proceeded to continue tweeting - including the occasional mention of Phonedog, as requested.
Now, however, the company is taking Kravitz to court. Over the summer Phonedog filed suit against him, claiming that his 17,000 followers were a customer list, and therefore Phonedog’s property. They are seeking $340,000, or $2.50 per follower per month for the eight months between Kravitz’s departure from the company and the filing of the suit.
A request for comment from Phonedog has not yet been answered, however the company told the New York Times that they intended “to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.” In what way Kravitz’s Twitter followers constitute “confidential information,” and how his tweets are supposed to infringe on Phonedog’s “intellectual property, trademark and brands,” is unclear.
There is, however, another wrinkle: Kravitz is a vested partner in Phonedog, and believes that the lawsuit is a retaliation for asserting his claim for his share of the sites gross ad revenue. Whatever the reasons behind it, however, the results of this lawsuit could have significant ramifications, establishing precedents on ownership of employee social media accounts and the valuation of social media followers.
What do you think? Do company’s have any ownership rights to their employees’ social media accounts? Sound off in the comments.