Social Media Policies Make Good Business Sense – Just Ask Edcomm

[Video Link: Social Media Law Report]

“Social media law is in its infancy but, as time goes on, more parties will litigate to test its boundaries. ” (Mintz Levin)

Who owns an executive’s social media account: employer or employee?

According to a recent Pennsylvania court ruling, it’s the person whose name appears on the account. The background, from attorneys in Morrison & Foerster’s social media practice:

“The plaintiff, Dr. Linda Eagle, was a co-founder of the defendant company, Edcomm. She established a LinkedIn account while at Edcomm, using the account to promote the company and to build her network. Edcomm personnel had access to her LinkedIn password and helped to maintain the account. Following termination of her employment, Edcomm allegedly changed Dr. Eagle’s LinkedIn password and her account profile; the new profile displayed the new interim CEO’s name and photograph instead of Dr. Eagle’s… Both parties raced to the courthouse, filing lawsuits against each other over the LinkedIn account and other disputes.”

Ms. Eagle’s initial lawsuit, filed in federal court, claimed that Edcomm violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (for “hacking” her account) and the Laneham Act (by creating a “likelihood of confusion” relating to the use of her name). Those claims were dismissed, but it wasn’t the end of the line for Ms. Eagle, writes Christophe Difo of law firm Mintz Levin:

“Her state law claims, for unauthorized use of name, invasion of privacy, misappropriation of publicity, among other claims, were not dismissed.”

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania court issued a ruling in favor of the former CEO. From employment attorney Daniel Schwartz of Pullman & Comley:

“In the main claim, the former company founder alleged that the company wrongly took over her LinkedIn account (and using her password) in an attempt to divert business back to the company. She alleged a variety of legal theories associated with such an action…

The employee was able to show that the company ‘used’ her name and derived commercial benefit from her likeness. The employee also prevailed on her invasion of privacy claim and misappropriation of publicity claim as well.”

It a was a hollow victory for Ms. Eagle – the court concluded that she was not entitled to damages – but the warning for employers is no less valid. Again, Christophe Difo:

“Although Ms. Eagle ultimately did not benefit financially from her win, this case should serve as a wakeup call for employers. Social media law is in its infancy but, as time goes on, more parties will litigate to test its boundaries. As we have written before, employers must be proactive in developing social media policies that set clear rules regarding who owns company-related social media accounts during and after an employee’s time with the employer.”

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