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, 13 Nov 2011 @ 2:01pm

    Re: Phonedog

    Half of this trade secret issue is nonsense. Companies really ought to have little ground to sue for trade secret breaches, it's something I hardly want my government wasting any tax payer resources enforcing. Same thing with patents and copy'rights'. Most trade secret, copyright, and patent laws need to be substantially repealed. They're antithesis to free market capitalistic principles and they're harmful to economic efficiency and to a prosperous society where useful knowledge is readily available. Free market capitalism assumes market transparency and openness and the truthfulness of information, that market players are aware of who's selling and offering what and for how much. and what's the point copy'right' and patent laws to encourage more public domain works and more inventive transparency when companies can simply protect their secrets with trade secret laws (I know they offer slightly different protections, but at least to some extent, trade secret laws offer some of the protections that the others do without offering anything back to society for contributing its effort to abide by and enforce these laws).

    and besides, being a disloyal employee maybe profitable in the short run, but in the long run, word gets out and getting a job becomes more difficult. Companies will pay the employee generously for the information sought, but they will be reluctant to later hire an employee knowing, based on this employee's work history, that this employee might be very willing to sell their 'trade secrets' away as well.

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