You Can’t Take It With You?
When an worker leaves for a brand new job or is fired, who will get management of the social media accounts the worker used to advertise that enterprise? And can the worker get into authorized hassle for utilizing the social media account after employment is terminated?
Sometimes a former worker tries to maintain the account and use it to advertise gross sales for a brand new employer, resulting in litigation. It occurred when Greg Johnson stop working for an agricultural commerce publication to work for a competitor.
Johnson labored for a publication referred to as The Packer and used a Twitter account with the deal with @GregOfThePacker to market that employer’s companies. Greg went to work for a competing publication, Produce Blue Book. He saved the Twitter account however modified the deal with to @GregOfTheBlueBook.
The Packer sued to get the Twitter account again, making a number of claims, together with trademark infringement and taking firm property. The court docket refused to dismiss the claims of The Packer, and it seems that the case was subsequently settled.
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There are many comparable circumstances. The main battle is normally over whether or not the previous employer can get well the social media account of the deceased worker.
Unfortunately, courts haven’t created a vibrant line take a look at for when the previous employer owns the social media account. But nonetheless, it’s clear from the circumstances that departing workers don’t personal social media accounts simply because they registered the accounts and are the one ones who know the usernames and passwords.
In common, these seem like the elements that courts contemplate when deciding who owns a social media account:
- Is there a service settlement that addresses possession of such accounts?
- Do the seen names of the social media account (eg username, display screen title, deal with) seek advice from the employer, the title of the worker, or each?
- Was the account used solely for enterprise functions?
- Did the worker create the account or as a substitute take it over from one other worker?
- Did the employer instruct the worker to create the account?
- Did different workers have entry to the account?
The greatest method to keep away from or resolve this difficulty is for the employer and worker to agree on the problem in writing whereas there’s nonetheless an employment relationship. An employer can management this in an employment contract. It might require the worker to report all social media accounts created or used to advertise the enterprise, use the corporate title and logos within the mashead and visual names of the account, to make use of the usernames and passwords for such enterprise social media accounts to the employer, and to show over such accounts when employment ends or earlier if instructed to take action. All of this ought to be reviewed within the exit interview.
But what in the event you’re a salesman and wish to take your social media accounts to your subsequent gross sales job? Then do the other of the above:
- Use your image and private title on the account, and don’t use any title or emblem of the corporate in any seen names, such because the display screen title, username or deal with.
- Mix in non-business posts to be sure you’re not simply utilizing the account to advertise your employer’s gross sales.
- Sometimes deposit into the account outdoors of standard enterprise hours (if in case you have them).
- Keep the username and password to your self; don’t give it to the employer.
- Include a disclaimer within the account description, reminiscent of “The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Acme Company.”
- Review any settlement you might signal with the corporate concerning possession of such accounts.
What about potential legal responsibility for a former worker who continues to make use of a enterprise social media account after leaving employment?
If the account is the employer’s property, the worker could also be responsible for utilizing the account to advertise the enterprise of a brand new employer. If the worker disparages the previous employer utilizing the account, that use could make the previous worker responsible for varied enterprise crimes.
Because these circumstances are settled early, it’s not clear that the employer would win these authorized claims. But defending them is dear, and most former workers do not have the cash to take action. The higher transfer for former workers is to ensure they personal social media accounts earlier than utilizing them for brand spanking new employers and to not say something about former employers by means of these accounts.
John B. Farmer is an lawyer at Leading-Edge Law Group PLC, specializing in mental property regulation. He could be reached at www.leadingedgelaw.com. John Farmer’s columns characterize the views of the creator and never these of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.