Many of us think that we don’t have to worry about the legal implications of our social media activity, especially if we do it “outside of work”. In reality - while the law is slow to catch up with new technologies - there has been an increase in social media court cases. Are you prepared?
The lines between work and home are rapidly blurring, and businesses have to have good legal council to navigate this brave new world.
Well, the clock has started ticking. As of late, many social media-related cases have been brought before courts to rule on questions like:
Legislation in Progress
You are probably familiar with Uber, and the legal battles they have been fighting to operate their “ride-sharing” service.
A recent article by Anna Gallegos, titled The Four Biggest Legal Problems Facing Ridesharing Services, lists non-compliance with the Americans for Disability Act, non-compliance with local regulations, lack of insurance (crimes have been committed by Uber drivers), and non-compliance with airport policies as some of the key issues. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The unsatisfying answer is that “the jury is still out” on how this will end.
When I recently sent a tweet about Uber, a woman from Australia replied to me, saying that the service was currently banned in her city. The article she referenced, Taxi app Uber banned in NSW by Kye White, from April 30, 2104, states that the Australian New South Wales government has declared ride-sharing apps illegal.
The challenge is mainly a lack of precedent. The legal system in the USA and in many other countries, base their verdicts heavily on decisions that have been made by courts in the past. I the case of Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, there is a void of past decisions.
What Does that Mean for You?
So what does that mean for you as a private person as well as an employee or business owner?
Fortunately, I was so lucky to attend the presentation of Paul Cowie, Partner at Sheppard Mullin, titled: “Not So Fast! – Employment, Ownership & Privacy Concerns When Using Social Media For Business." Paul focuses on labor law and has been involved in social media cases in Silicon Valley.
When summarizing things I learned from Paul’s presentation, I apologize to him in advance for any misrepresentations of his content; as I am obviously not legally trained. This stuff is complicated.
Three Real- World Cases
1. Who owns your LinkedIn account and contacts?
Case: Eagle vs. Morgan
Your LI contacts could be your client and partner Rolodex.
Surprisingly to me, this case falls into the area of trade secrets. What is a trade secret (for Dummies 101)?
Back to Eagle vs. Morgan
Ms. Eagle had a LinkedIn profile with private and business contacts. She gave other employees the login and password to this LinkedIn page.
When she left her job at the company, who owned her profile? The person who created it or the employer whose business was promoted via the account? (I am simplifying here, as the case is quite complex).
The company proceeded to change the picture and name on Ms. Eagle’s LinkedIn page and took over her account. Was this legal or not? The employer, Morgan, were ordered by the court to give the account back.
The Verdict: Liable: the unauthorized use of name, invasion of privacy by misappropriation and misappropriation of publicity.
No Damages where paid to Ms. Eagle, as she did not incur any financial loss.
The case could have ended differently, had there been a company social media policy.
2. Who Owns Your Twitter Followers?
An employee worked as a product reviewer and video blogger. He had access to the company’s branded Twitter account and used it to market his employer. When the employee left the company, he renamed the account and kept on using the Twitter account.
Was this legal?
Here an article on the case, written by Robert Booth of The Guardian: Company sues ex-employee for his Twitter followers
“A Twitter user is being sued for £217,000 by his former employer for taking his online followers with him when he switched jobs. Noah Kravitz, a writer from Oakland, California, amassed 17,000 followers on the social networking site when he worked for PhoneDog, a website providing news and reviews about mobile phones. He posted Twitter messages under the name @Phonedog_Noah, but in October 2010 he left the company, renamed his account @noahkravitz and took his following with him. PhoneDog has launched legal proceedings seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000. The company is arguing that Kravitz's list of followers constitutes a customer database and the valuation is an estimate of how much each follower is worth to the company.”
There was no court ruling as the case was settled.
There was no social media policy in place.
The question of Twitter follower ownership is huge, particularly as more and more companies are tapping into their employees as brand advocates.
Who Owns Your Website, Blog and Social Channels?
CASE: An employee created websites, blogs and social media pages during their employment for a company.
Who owns the channels?
Verdict: OWNED BY employer
What Does That Mean For You?
So what can you do to minimize your risk on social media, personally and professionally?
I hope you found this article useful. My main-take away is that while there is little precedent, be aware and alert of the situation. If you have employees, you need to involve a lawyer to avoid a bad awakening.
Here 3 More (somewhat related) Take-Aways from Paul’s Talk (my words, not his):