So you have your very own Twitter account (like we do, at @webgangsta). And you spend time throughout the day sending out various tweets about whatever is going on in your life.
Some of the things you tweet about are about food you’ve eaten and music you’re listening to. Some of the things you tweet about are work-related, such as telling your followers about some cool new thing that’s up on your company website.
Did you know that your company could SUE YOU FOR OWNERSHIP OF YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT if you use it for work purposes?
That’s what’s happened to Noah Kravitz, a tech reporter that used to work for a phone review website. Noah just happened to have that company’s name in his personal Twitter handle, in order to differentiate himself from other Twitter users.
And he tweeted about stuff he posted on that company’s website, along with personal stuff. It was his account, after all.
And then he left that company and changed his Twitter handle since he no longer worked there…. taking his 17,000 followers with him. His former company is suing Noah for ownership of that Twitter account, pricing the account’s worth at $340,000.
The lawsuit has been approved to move forward in the court system, with some pundits saying that the work-related tweets are similar to driving a company car — you have to turn the car over when you leave the company. Others are saying that as long as the company didn’t dictate what was tweeted and otherwise showed no interest in the account, that Noah is free to take that account with him.
The outcome of this case will have wide repercussions throughout the business world, were people will be unwilling to tweet about work from their personal accounts for fear of having to turn over even the slightest bit of access to what should be their own piece of the Internet. Other lawsuits have ruled that LinkedIn contacts can belong to your employer (as they would fall into non-compete clauses).
So if this lawsuit ends up having Noah give up his Twitter account, it could cause some significant changes in the way employers and employees interact in the world of social media.
And such lawsuits are not uncommon.
The most famous one from the early Internet days was for ownership of MTV.COM. Adam Curry, one of the original MTV VJs (and the originator of the term “podcast” – so he has some tech cred), purchased the MTV.COM domain and used it for promotional purposes. MTV showed little interest in the domain, so Adam continued to own and operated the domain after he left MTV.
In 1994, MTV sued Adam Curry for the domain — they settled out of court.
In the court case, MTV said that Curry was under contract to them, even though he was also involved in outside business interested. MTV admits that Curry was free to develop the original MTV.com own his own and at his own expense, and he received encouragement to continue on his own.
MTV eventually claimed that Curry’s use of “MTV” was trademark infringement and a breach of employment contracts. Further, there was discussion of there being an implied “joint venture”, where both parties offer some combination of property, skill, or knowledge. In his original public defense of owning MTV.COM, Adam said, “Irony is that I incorporated a company called ON RAMP, Inc ™ and onramp.com was already registered to someone else, but I’m not suing them :) ”
We all know now that MTV eventually ended up with the MTV.COM domain.
So what does this mean for Noah? There is precedence for a company suing for Internet property after an employee has left the company and winning. That company may end up taking Noah’s Twitter account, but there’s nothing stopping him from creating a new one and seeing all those 17,000 followers leave that first account and track him down at his new address.
Just because a company can sue and win, doesn’t mean that they’ll find success.