Former Employee Sued Over TwitterBy: Mike Fossum - February 27, 2012
Noah Kravitz, was recently sued by his former employer PhoneDog, for keeping and renaming his Twitter account he’d kept for that company. Phonedog seeks $340,000 in damages – $2.50 per follower (Kravitz had amassed 17K during his time at Phonedog), per month, for 8 months. Kravitz argues that PhoneDog has overestimated the value of the account, and that Twitter is the legal owner regardless.
While still at Phonedog, Kravitz went by the handle Phonedog_Noah on Twitter, and racked up thousands of followers. Kravitz told the The New York Times that when he left Phonedog, they asked him to “tweet on their behalf from time to time and I said sure, as we were parting on good terms,” adding that Phonedog said he could keep his Twitter account. But then he switched his handle to NoahKravitz, keeping all the followers he’d amassed while still with his old employer.
This is when Phonedog got angry, and sued, citing that the Twitter list was their customer list. Phonedog’s sole statement on the matter was this- “The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C. We intend to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.”
Kravitz has claimed that the real motives behind the lawsuit surround back pay and his 15% ownership of Phonedog’s gross ad revenue as an investor. Legal analysts assume the Kravitz/Phonedog case depends exactly why the account was created in the first place, and whether or not any release forms were actually signed in regards to the function and use of the Twitter account in question.
Still, the case could set precedent in regards to the ownership of certain social media accounts, where companies have been hiring popular Twitter users, in part because of their social media presence. Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Columbia Journalism School, states “it’s a terrible thing to say you have to leave your Twitter followers behind. It sends a terrible signal to reporters and journalists who care about this, and this will make it less attractive to recruit the next round of people.” He adds that companies who are smart don’t attempt to control the social media surrounding their brand, and just let it take its own shape.