Back in December of last year, we published a post “He quit and took his twitter followers with him!” The post covered the story of Noah Kravitz. Noah was hired by PhoneDog as a product reviewer and video blogger. As part of his employment with PhoneDog, Noah Kravitz wrote and produced video content, which was then transmitted on PhoneDog’s website and disseminated through a twitter account, @PhoneDog_Noah. The twitter feed, @PhoneDog_Noah, was a great success. It garnered approximately 17,000 followers. Followers were getting the twit feed and going to PhoneDog’s website.
Business was good, but then Noah Kravitz quit his employment with PhoneDog. He did freelance for awhile and then took a job with TechnoBuffalo, a competitor of PhoneDog. And guess, what……. He took the twitter account and all the 17,000 followers with him. Post his resignation, Noah Kratvitz retained the pass code for the twitter. He simply changed the twitter account name to @noahkravitz. PhoneDog unsuccessfully sued Noah for claiming misuse of trade secrets, stealing, and interfering with PhoneDog’s business.
Now comes the inverse case. Employer fires employee. Employer ‘hi-jets’ employee’s LinkedIn account. The case is LINDA EAGLE v. EDCOMM, INC. Eagle was president of Edcomm, Inc. Edcomm’s policy, when an employee leaves the company, is Edcomm effectively takes ownership of the former employee’s LinkedIn account and "mines" the information and incoming traffic on the account.
Edecomn fired Eagle. Per policy, Edcomm changed Eagle’s LinkedIn password and temporarily re-routed Eagle’s LinkedIn account to the newly appointed president of Edcomm. Eagle sued Edcomm for trademark infringement, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and state law claims. Eagle alleges that she lost business contacts and potential customers who were searching for her profile on LinkedIn.
The court dismissed both the trademark and the CFAA claims. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act outlaws conduct that victimizes computer systems. It is a computer security law. The CFAA allows "[a]ny person who suffers damage or loss by reason of a violation of CFAA to bring a civil action against the violator." Eagle, however, could not show actual losses or damages. Eagle could only allege potential loss of customer or contract, no actual loss or damage. Likewise, the court held the redirecting of the LinkedIn account did not result in any customer confusion. Customers could clearly see that they were being re¬routed. They were not confused. Without confusion there is not trademark infringement claim.
At the end of the day the debate rages on. Who gets what when an employment relationship ends when it comes to social media is foggy at best. These two cases suggest social media accounts are up for grabs. Whoever grabs them, gets them and the court are none to eager to intervene.