When a Florida business owner makes use of social media to promote their business or market services, significant legal questions can arise as to ownership of the account and any ‘followers’ or contacts gained through that account. Without a clearly defined written agreement that pertains to the use of social media accounts and rights to contacts gained from said use, it can be difficult to determine which party ‘owns’ access to those contacts. The result could be expensive business litigation for both sides, without a clear prediction of which party might prevail in court.
An example lies, of all places, in the recent transition between popes in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope to make use of Twitter, and amassed a following of over two million in his time as the leader of the Catholic Church. However, the Vatican was exceptionally savvy in the way that they set up the account, making it clear that the Titter account was the property of the office, and not of any individual pope. As a result, the account was deactivated when the pope stepped down, and will be activated once again under the name of the new pope.
Another example lies in a 2012 lawsuit settled between a technology review site and a former employee. The suit revolved over claims that the former employee misappropriated the company’s Twitter followers for his own personal gain. While the lawsuit was ultimately settled, it was among the first major suits to address what a social media follower or contact is worth, and whether those resources belong to an individual or their company.
Florida business entities could learn from both of these examples. By making a clear delineation between social media accounts that are private and those that are for business purposes, it is easier to enforce rules concerning the use of those accounts and the ‘ownership’ of the contacts collected. A written social media policy should be created that covers not only use of the company’s accounts and contacts, but also covers how the employer expects employees to behave on their own social media accounts. As the use and prevalence of social media continues to rise, these issues are likely to lead to additional business litigation.
Source: [email protected], “Whom Do Social Media Followers Belong to — You, or Your Business?” March 13, 2013