Who Owns Your Work Tweets?
You work hard and build up a good collection of work contacts and clients. In the old days you kept their phone numbers and comments about them in your own little contact book.
Nowadays you might build up a public profile for you and your company through social media – Tweets, Facebook and blogging. You expand the number of followers and hits on the social media and it brings in clients and customers to your employer.
You decide to leave and set up business by yourself or move to another company.
So who owns the social media contacts you built up with your previous employer?
On the one hand you used their equipment and company name to expand your contacts. The company asked you to start up a Twitter account and paid you to build up contact lists and social media ‘friends’.
On the other hand it was your skills, dedication and hard work that got the job done.
It’s a very grey area in law. Very few companies have set up proper social media policies clearly spelling out who owns the content and who owns the Twitter account.
They’ll need to do it soon as the issue is coming to the crunch. In California a man is being sued by his former employer because he left the mobile phone company where he was an online spokesman and took his 17,000 Twitter followers with him. The company is claiming the Twitter list was a customer database and wants more than $350,000 in damages.
Employers in Australia are watching the development with interest. They may have the right to cash in on their workers’ social media accounts when they leave the job.
At stake is the legal question of whether a Twitter list is confidential information that has propriety or monetary value.
The case should be a warning to employers and employees to get legal advice on drawing up a clear demarcation of who owns the account and who owns the content.
Who owns workers’ Twitter accounts aren’t the only social media issues that need legal clarity. What happens to your Facebook page after you die? Or your name on other online accounts such as PayPal, LinkedIn, blogs or Flickr?
Lawyers advise to spell out what you want to happen to these online accounts in your will, just as you would with your property. Legally designate someone to delete your Facebook and online accounts. Leave all your passwords with your will.