Who 'Owns' A Twitter Account: Employer Or Employee?

from the there's-going-to-be-a-legal-fight dept

Venkat Balasubramani, inspired by Marshall Kirkpatrick, recently explored the legal issue over who “owns” your Twitter account: you or your employer. Most people signed up for their own Twitter account, but many have used them in connection to their jobs, and the issue that kicked off Venkat’s discussion was the recent firing of CNN’s Rick Sanchez, who had a large Twitter following, which he regularly tapped into as a part of his job at CNN. The summary: um… it’s not clear. If CNN wanted to, it could try to claim some right to the account, suggesting the followers were in large part due to CNN — but that seems like a stretch. To date, most companies have pretty much assumed that the individual “owns” the account. I can’t recall any examples of someone being forced to hand over their “personal” Twitter account upon leaving a job. However, the fact that it’s such a gray area suggest that we’ll eventually see a lawsuit over this in some form or another. It seems likely that things like this are going to start appearing in employment contracts as well (who owns what…), but for now it’s simply an interesting legal hypothetical…

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Comments on “Who 'Owns' A Twitter Account: Employer Or Employee?”

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23 Comments
fogbugzd (profile) says:

Reasonable solution

I suppose it is expect a reasonable solution to this. Like, a Twitter account in the name of a person belongs to the person, and an account using a company name or trademark belongs to the company or trademark holder.

A person’s name is important to them. If they go to another employer they take their own name. If employers don’t want famous employees to take their followers with them when they leave, then the company should set up the account and require the employee to use it for professional purposes.

RandomGuy (profile) says:

Re: Reasonable solution

That’s right, I don’t see how this is even an issue.

Personal twitter accounts, clearly designated as such, should belong to the person who created them, whereas company accounts belong to the company. What is the world coming to when a sentence like that needs to even exist? Common sense, anyone?

A murky area can appear when people use personal accounts to post company tweets, simple solution is: don’t.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Reasonable solution

>>A murky area can appear when people use personal accounts to post company tweets, simple solution is: don’t.

I think that is good advice for most people, but it doesn’t work well for people like reporters especially if they are nationally known. In that case the person and the company message are blurred. When a company hires a reporter that reporter’s credibility and reputation is a very important part of what they are hiring. The reporter probably needs to tweet under their own name as part of the credibility package. Hiding behind a program name isn’t as effective as standing under their own name. The flip side of this for the reporter is that they can blow their credibility and entire career with their tweets.

In the Sanchez situation I think the account in question included both Shanchez’s name and the name of the program, which probably makes it more of a company account in my mind. If Sanchez moves on to another network, will he have the same program name? I would imagine that CNN has the program name trademarked. On the other hand, it was probably Sanchez that people were following, so I would think that the account itself has relatively little value to CNN except for a post or two encouraging people to watch Sanchez’s replacement. I think in the case of a mixed name account it should just have a “goodbye” post and then be canceled.

Thanatossassin (profile) says:

A familiar situation

A few years back, the Los Angeles Kings had a trainer who gave a “behind-the-scenes” look on his twitter account, which was named ‘LAKingsTrainer’. He ended up getting a little too behind the scenes and started posting some unwarranted beef he had with the team reporter/correspondant. He was axed for the unprofessionalism.

In this situation, he was using the Kings name, and therefore the Kings could have claimed unauthorized usage of their trademark. There wasn’t any holding out and he deleted the account without protest.

CNN can claim that account violates trademark, BUT, he should be able to retain the account and just remove CNN from his username (which is very possible, Display & Account names can be modified). No problem with losing any followers, at least not due to the name change.

Kingster (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah. My company put out some stupid policy on what I could post on social networks… So I yanked them and their URL off the list of current and former employers. It’s one of my social connections, and I’ll talk them up or talk shit about them if I want to, just like I would in any other situation. I’m careful not to “name names”, but that’s as far as it goes – I still bitch or applaud.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Who owns ???

Actually the issue was settled a long time ago (but the current courts seem to be sort of out of touch, especially the Supreme Court (the worst one we have ever had):
If I buy a hammer for you to use, or open an email account for you to use, or open a twitter account for you to use, own it. I can even specify that if you bring your OWN hammer, twitter account, etc., to work to use on a job I hired you to do own the tool while it is being used on MY work!
True, many courts seem to no longer follow the law (and that includes the FBI, etc. – the worst law enforcement we have ever had), but the fact that they fail to follow does not invalidate the principle, it only makes law-breakers out of the law-makers!

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