So, who really owns your Twitter, Facebook or Linked In Account?

A Columbia, South Carolina company, PhoneDog, LLC, has sued its former employees Noah Kravitz over a Twitter account that was extablished by Kravitz when he worked for PhoneDog. PhoneDog had a policy of directing its employees to maintain Twitter accounts to help generate traffic to PhoneDog’s website, but otherwise had no policy concerning employee's use of social media. The Twitter account in question had around 17,000 followers when Kravitz resigned. Amazingly, PhoneDog is seeking around $340,000 in damage claiming that each follower was worth $2.50 per month (times eight months). PhoneDog alleges that these followers should be treated like a customer list and are PhoneDog’s property.

I speculate that one of the reasons PhoneDog decided to sue that that when Kravitz resigned, he changed his Twitter name from @PhoneDog__Noah to @noahkravitz and kept the 17,000 followers when he went to work for a competitor. Another factor that most likely led to the litigation is that Kravitz, currently works for a competitor (TechnoBuffalo) and now has around 24,000 Twitter followers, including the “original” 17,000. Also, Kravitz has sued PhoneDog for unpaid wages and believes that PhoneDog is using this litigation to try to gain some perceived “leverage”.

Kravitz worked for PhoneDog from 2006 till 2010. Using PhoneDog’s calculations, Kravitz’s account would be worth over $800 million during his employment with PhoneDog; probably a hard number to prove in court. This calculation theory would value Paris Hilton followers (over 1.7 million) at $50 million per year.

While this case will most likely not amount to much in the way of damages against Kravitz, it very well could impact e-discovery requirements, communications policies and even the use of social media by companies (such as limiting the conduct of employees on social media sites). Further, this case may affect policies concerning employees creating non-work related content with work-related social media accounts.

During November 2011 hearing, a California Judge ruled that PhoneDog must first establish that it actually owns the account, its password and the follower list prior to the Judge ruling on damages. Another hearing is scheduled in January 2012 to decide Kravitz’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit; he previously failed to prevail on a similar motion filed last year.

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