Can Your Employer Lay Claim to Your Social Media Account?

Your employer sets up personal Twitter and Linked-In accounts for you to help promote their business.  The employment relationship invariably ends, and both parties lay claim to ownership of the accounts.  Who prevails?

A Federal Court in Pennsylvania addressed this issue recently in the case of Eagle v. Edcomm, et al.  In Eagle, the employer had key employees set up and maintain Linked-In accounts according to certain formatting requirements, including links to the Edcomm’s business site.  When Eagle, their CEO, separated from the business, Edcomm took control of her LinkedIn account, changed passwords and substituted information on their new CEO.  Eagle regained control of the account, prompting a suit and counter-suit regarding the rightful ownership of the social media account.

Ultimately, the Court found in favor of the employee regarding the ownership element of the account, holding that the employer had misused and misappropriated Eagle’s identity - BUT, it also found that Eagle suffered no monetary damages in the course of the dispute.  A hollow victory?  Perhaps, but employers are put on notice that they cannot freely seize individiual social media accounts just because they requested their creation, as those accounts are based upon contractual relationships with the social media site and the individual.

Now consider a case where an employee has developed a Twitter account with 10,000 followers of the employer’s business products or activities.  Can the employer claim the followers as a proprietary contact list?  Stay tuned.