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Can A Company Keep An Employee's LinkedIn Account After They're No Longer Employed?

from the how-does-that-make-sense dept

Venkat Balasubramani has the story of a bizarre fight between a company, Sawabeh Information Services, and the founders of Edcomm, a company that Sawabeh bought in 2010. A few months later, the founders of Edcomm were fired, and the lawsuits commenced. There are a variety of issues here, and Venkat's post goes through most of them in detail, but I wanted to focus on just one: the fight over who gets to control Dr. Linda Eagle's LinkedIn account. Eagle was one of the founders of Edcomm and the key figure in this fight. Sawabeh claims that Eagle "misappropriated" her own LinkedIn account and the contacts associated with it, by continuing to use it after being fired.

While I can kind of understand some of the legal fights over who gets to control Twitter accounts, the entire point of a LinkedIn account is to represent an individual and their job history. How would it possibly make sense for a company to control an ex-employee's LinkedIn account?

The company seems to think that the LinkedIn account was more like a rolodex. Because (for reasons that are beyond me), Eagle had let others in the company access and manage her account, as soon as she was fired, people at the company accessed her account and then changed her "name" and profile picture to someone else at the company. That would be pretty shocking for her connections, who might not know who the guy was at all. They also tried to do this with the account of one of the other fired founders, but they didn't have his password. Apparently the company asked LinkedIn to hand over the password, and LinkedIn, properly, told the company to get lost.

Either way, the court digs into the "misappropriation" question with the LinkedIn account and refuses to dismiss it out of hand (at this stage of the case), which seems too bad. However, there's an unclear issue of who "developed" the contacts in the account:
The Counterclaim Complaint expressly alleges that, with respect to the LinkedIn account connections and content, "Edcomm personnel, not Dr. Eagle, developed and maintained all connections and much of the content on the LinkedIn Account, actions that were taken solely at Edcommís expense and exclusively for its own benefit." ... While Plaintiff argues that Edcomm fails to allege facts that would show that it made a substantial investment of time, effort, and money into creating the cell phone number or LinkedIn account, Edcomm counters that its employees developed the accounts and maintained the connections, which are the route through which Edcomm contacts instructors and specific personnel within its clients. As these conflicting allegations create an issue of fact requiring further discovery, the Court must deny the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to the misappropriation counterclaim.
Of course, I wonder if they're arguing about the wrong thing here. If the company developed the contacts, perhaps it has a right to ask for a copy of the contacts, but the account itself seems like it should belong to Eagle. Part of the problem here is the idea that contacts are some scarce resource. Both parties can have them, and the simplest thing would be, if there is a legitimate claim that the company developed those relationships, to require that their contact info be provided to the company -- but leave the account in the hands of Eagle.

Either way, the case should be a warning for any company that wants to control the LinkedIn accounts of its employees.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 6:16am

    I think, if it had been intended as a personal account, it should have stayed personal. This is what happens when you allow other people access to "your" stuff. By allowing others in a company to access and maintain it, you have by default made it a company account.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 6:28am

    seems to me they are attempting to argue that they used the linkedin account with access used by other people against the linkedin tos and now want to reap the benefits illegally obtained.

    That will backfire both with the Judge and Likedin

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Killercool (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 6:43am

    Re:

    Sorry. I didn't realize that by allowing others access to my property, I relinquish ownership of said property. It all makes sense now. He didn't steal my bike. I gave it away when I told him he could ride it...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    Logan2057 (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 6:47am

    Linkdin

    Here's one for you. I'm not a member of LinkedIn, as I don't use social messaging but somehow I've wound up on their list and I'm being spammed to death by them. It seems every week I'm getting updates about people who have joined my list and I don't know any of them. I've tried to go and remove my name but can't seem to find how to do so other than use the user name and password, which I don't have as it's not my account.
    There is no way to contact them as I've looked online so this type of behavior is not surprising. As to who owns the account now in question in the above story I'd say it still belongs to the original account owner, Dr. Eagle, Sawabeh has no right to that account or the information contained therein as it was created by Dr. Eagle BEFORE the company was bought out and the original founders fired. Their (Sawabeh) removing of her name and profile picture to be replaced with someone else from the company is nothing short of fraud.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 6:59am

    Re: Linkdin

    I'm being spammed to death by them.


    Yes. Well, we lost the spam war.

    You should be able to blacklist LinkedIn at your inbox. If not, then just go whitelist-only. You really don't need email from strangers, do you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    Logan2057 (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 7:20am

    Re: Re: Linkdin

    Believe me I've tried to blacklist this bunch of loons. I've made message rules to delete anything with LinkdIn updates in the address. I've blocked them on my group page where the whole mess first started. I've tried blacklisting the whole darn domain with no results. Hell, I've even sent letters and calls to the FTC to get these clowns to stop with no results. As of right now I'm at a complete loss as how to get rid of this bunch as there's not even an email contact address to get hold of them. It's like they want to harass you until you give up and join.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 7:35am

    Re: Re: Re: Linkdin

    I've tried blacklisting the whole darn domain with no results.


    Then whitelist: Family, friends, work. The odds are that you have less than 400 people in your immediate contacts.



    ( If you have the right social circle, then the first, easiest cut is to /dev/null anything that isn't PGP/GPG or S/MIME. You need a select group of friends and cow-orkers for that, though. )

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    WysiWyg (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 7:56am

    Isn't this kind of like the company demanding ownership of your friends? I thought that only happened in bad breakups.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 8:12am

    Re:

    Yeah, lets just overlook the other account.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 8:16am

    It could be argued that Sawabeh violated the LinkedIn terms of service, which as we all know is a felony.

    Because corporations are now people, do all Sawabeh employees go to jail?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    John E. Bredehoft, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 8:31am

    An unusual case

    As this story spreads across the tubes (I found it at a source that referenced the TechDirt article), elements are getting dropped from the story. Luckily TechDirt has preserved one important element of the story - the fact that Eagle's account was used by people other than Eagle. This important little tidbit - which is even left out of TechDirt's own title - clarifies that this case is not the norm.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 9:07am

    Re: An unusual case

    Talk about leaving out information ... how about this tidbit:

    "They also tried to do this with the account of one of the other fired founders, but they didn't have his password. Apparently the company asked LinkedIn to hand over the password, and LinkedIn, properly, told the company to get lost. "

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    TonyP (profile), Dec 30th, 2011 @ 12:38pm

    Re: Re:

    The key point you're missing is not simply allowing access, it's allowing modifications. In your property example, that's like telling someone that hey, you can go ahead and paint my house for me and then complaining when they file a lien on the property because you didn't pay them.

    Or, perhaps a little closer to the linked in example, many states have laws that will allow people to claim ownership over property (land, in this example) they have maintained for a certain period of time with the knowledge and (tacit?) approval of the property owner. I forget what the legal term is, but it does exist.

    Common-law marriages, if still on the books in any states, are perhaps another example.

    I believe there have also been court cases where a person sues a former housemate who allowed them to live in the house without a rental agreement due to a "relationship" getting a certain percentage of ownership awarded to them because they were able to show spending time and money maintaining/improving the property.

    I guess my point is be careful of anything that may be interpreted as sharing or giving up ownership rights.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Infuze Mobile, Dec 30th, 2011 @ 7:17pm

    Introducing JobChangeAlert for LinkedIn iPhone app

    Keep track of who in your LinkedIn network has changed jobs daily via JobChangeAlert for LinkedIn iPhone app.

    Get to know when your connection gets promoted, starts their own company, joins a new company or retires from their job.

    http://bit.ly/sYlzzN

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Logan2057 (profile), Dec 31st, 2011 @ 5:24am

    Re: Introducing JobChangeAlert for LinkedIn iPhone app

    Just what we bloody need some moron advertising how to keep up with your LinkedIn contacts. Well, what if you DON'T want to keep in contact with them cause you don't know them from Adam?
    I wish people like you and your "friends" at LinkedIn would all just dig a nice big hole next to an active volcano, climb in and pull the hole in after you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Persiangateway, Dec 31st, 2011 @ 7:12am

    Re: Re:

    Re Pre Pro

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Dec 31st, 2011 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Linkdin

    I've made message rules to delete anything with LinkdIn updates in the address.

    If your spam rules aren't working it sounds like you need a new email provider.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 19th, 2012 @ 5:27pm

    Former Employee

    I am a former employee of the named company in this and this is a tricky situation because I never had a linked in account myself until I was told to create one by the founding partners. I never had any belief or illusion that this account was private or my sole property. They controlled what we were allowed to write about the company and the linked in accounts of the founding members were managed by a department of the company so in my personal opinion letting someone else in the company manage the account takes the right to the account out of the persons hands and places it in the control of the company. Making the decision to have someone else there run the account is acknowledging just that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    WysiWyg (profile), Jan 20th, 2012 @ 12:37am

    Re: Former Employee

    So ALL the Linked-In accounts of your former company are against the TOS?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2012 @ 6:31am

    Re: Re: Former Employee

    When the accounts were originally created I would have to say yes. After the original partners were removed from power we were able to have control over what we put on our linked-in accounts without feeling like big brother was watching us (which they always are). Honestly I have not used my account since I left the company.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2012 @ 7:44am

    Another former employee

    Having worked at edcomm, I find it funny that linda is upset, because it was common practice for her to do the EXACT SAME THING she is complaining about. When someone was let go, they took over access to their linked in account, while pretending to be that person and acting as if they were still employed, to the point that people would just make a new profile and start over... It's a clear case of so as I day, not as I do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 20th, 2012 @ 7:51am

    Re: Another former employee

    *Do as I say, not as I do... Damn autocorrect

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    white collar extradition, Nov 2nd, 2013 @ 7:15am

    That would be pretty shocking for her connections, who might not know who the guy was at all. Because (for reasons that are beyond me), Eagle had let others in the company access and manage her

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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