Company Sues Ex-Employee Because He Kept His Personal Twitter Account & Followers

from the tweet-tweet dept

Well, well, well. Look at this. Just about a year ago, we wrote a blog post questioning who "owned" a Twitter account when someone was an employee of a company and had built up a big "personal" Twitter following in that role... but then left the company. The example we used was CNN's Rick Sanchez. That one never hit a legal conflict, but it really was only a matter of time. Venkat Balasubramani alerts us to a case in which the company PhoneDog sued a former employee because he kept his Twitter account. A couple of important points right upfront. This was not "the" PhoneDog Twitter account. The company had its own specific Twitter account. The employee in question, Noah Kravitz, simply named his account "@PhoneDog_Noah", which has become a fairly standard naming pattern among employees of certain companies -- using both the company name and their own name as part of the handle. Also, once Kravitz left PhoneDog, he switched the account to @noahkravitz. PhoneDog still sued, claiming (1) misappropriation of trade secrets, (2) interference with economic advantage; and (3) conversion.

The court ruled on Kravitz' motion to dismiss by rejecting the "interference with economic advantage" claim, but left the other claims to stand for the time being. I have trouble seeing how either the trade secret or the conversion claim stands up at all. What's the trade secret here? Hell, what's "secret" at all? The Twitter account is public. The follower list is public. The only thing not public is the password, and there is some argument over whether or not the password was "adequately safeguarded" as a trade secret. Even if it wasn't, though, is that really a "trade secret?" It's a password! But the court thought that was enough:
PhoneDog has sufficiently described the subject matter of the trade secret with sufficient particularity and has alleged that, despite its demand that Mr. Kravitz relinquish use of the password and Account, he has refused to do so. At this stage, these allegations are sufficient to state a claim. Further, to the extent that Mr. Kravitz has challenged whether the password and Account followers are trade secrets and whether Mr. Kravitz's conduct constitutes misappropriation requires consideration of evidence beyond the scope of the pleading.
The whole thing seems pretty crazy. If you want him to Tweet as the company, give him the company account. If you want to him to Tweet as himself, let him do so. Suing for the account just seems silly and petty.

Filed Under: noah kravitz, ownership, passwords, trade secrets, twitter accounts
Companies: phonedog, twitter


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2011 @ 5:14am

    Who owns the account: the company or the ex-employee?

    This is not a simple question.

    First, what was the status and responsibilities of the ex-employee?
    Was he/she a wage earner or Chief Operations Officer?

    If he was a wage earner it is clear that he had no authority and as such the ex-employee may own the account.

    Second, whose resources were used to create the content?
    If the ex-employee use company resources then there is a high probability that the account belongs to the company.

    Third, where was the work on the account done? Did the ex-employee maintain it at work? If so there is a high probability the company owns the account.

    Fourth, (and this is the weakest question) what is the content of the account?
    If the account was opened, maintained, and developed by a corporate official or sales professional for the promotion of the company using resources of the company on company time then the account is definitely a company account.
    If the account's content did not feature the company in any way, did not use resources of the company, and was developed and maintained at home then the account is the employees.
    If you have a mixed bag of answers to the two preceding conditional statements then there is a ligament different point of view of ownership.

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