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


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2011 @ 2:25pm

    Re: What does PhoneDog hope to gain from this?

    What I want to know is if the corporation is going to let the followers even know that someone else is now managing the account? If not, and those followers remain under the reasonable impression that the ex-employee is still managing the account, couldn't it constitute deceitfulness or fraud? In this case, since this is such a high profile case, that might be unlikely. But what about lower profile cases? If the ex-employee is denied contact information to his followers and is denied contact access to his followers then how are the followers to know that they are not linking to the same employee?

    Though what's more likely is that the corporation simply wants to retrieve all of the contact information, shut the account down, create a new account (or use another existing account of their own), and attempt to establish all the same followers.

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