Companies need physical and virtual locations to reach their consumers, which includes social media accounts. People want to access their favorite brands where they already spend all their time, but running a professional site for a brand can get tricky. Who owns a business social media account, and do they have legal rights that protect them in court? These are a few of the other most commonly asked questions and their clarifying answers.
Researching business social account rights may feel complicated, but marketing teams only need to look to local or federal court cases to find the answers they need. In 2015, a Texas bankruptcy court found that social media accounts are business assets, meaning the company owner also owns the accounts even if it goes bankrupt.
Although this law may differ in other states, it’s notable that account ownership remains in the creator’s hands. Business owners will likely be held liable for any illegal actions or cases brought against their social media accounts, depending on which state where the company is located.
Many people start to think about social media rights for businesses when they consider who has access to their accounts. Although a business owner may create a Facebook or Instagram page for their company, numerous marketing team members could have the passwords. Who owns social media accounts when employees leave or get their two-week notice?
Business owners can look to the case of PhoneDog v. Kravitz. In 2011, Noah Kravitz managed PhoneDog Media’s Twitter account until his employment ended. He switched the username and handle to his name and retained an audience of 17,000 followers.
Kravitz stated that the company agreed he could keep the account if he tweeted brand-friendly content so the audience remained customers, but PhoneDog Media disagreed. They requested $340,000 in damages and exclusive account access.
Kravitz later settled the case and retained ownership of the account, but there's an easy way for business owners to avoid the same difficulties with their team members. Upon hiring full-time or contract social media experts, present a contract outlining ownership expectations while they're employed and if they leave for employment elsewhere. This can also become a separate social media clause within a company's standard job agreement.
Business owners rarely operate their social media platforms unless they have a startup company. Most of the time, they have a marketing team handling their virtual presence. Those team members may open other accounts in the company’s name to reach different audiences, so how does that change business social account rights, if at all?
There may be precedent in the Eagle v. Morgan case from 2013. Dr. Linda Eagle was CEO of a banking education company, but the board of Edcomm terminated her. After she was no longer an employee, Edcomm opened her business LinkedIn account, changed the password and updated various profile information. She sued under numerous claims, insisting that she owned the site because she ran it.
So do businesses own employees’ business social media accounts? The court found that Dr. Eagle didn’t hold the account and couldn’t receive damages because she suffered no monetary losses. Depending on a different state’s precedent is risky, so it's wise for company owners to always have their marketing employees sign contracts that specify who owns the account during and after their employment.
Finding out if business-run social accounts have legal rights isn’t necessarily difficult, but the answer could change if someone takes their former employer to court. Precedent remains at the state level, so cases could have different results across the country. The wisest thing business owners can do to prevent costly court cases and confusion is to read about cases like these and develop contracts that clearly define everyone’s role in creating, monitoring and maintaining any professional social media account.
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