There have been many articles written as of late concerning employees’ use of social media at the office. However, little has been written about employers protecting their company’s social media profiles against unauthorized use by competitors or even disgruntled former employees. In today’s digital age, use of social media by businesses is an invaluable marketing tool. Given the increasing use of social media, companies must be mindful of their rights over social media accounts, such as Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.
In the March 14, 2012 decision of Regas Christou et al. v. Beatport, LLC, et al., the United States District Court for the District of Colorado held that a nightclub owner adequately stated a claim for misappropriation of a trade secret against its direct nightclub competitor. The competitor misappropriated login information of the nightclub owner’s MySpace business account, including his list of MySpace friends. Importantly, the Court noted that the names of a person’s, or a company’s, friends on a social media website were not the important factor, but that the ancillary information including contact information and personal preferences connected to those friends weighed in favor of trade secret protection. Id. at *15. A competitor (or former employee) that accesses a company’s friends on a social media website, may gain unlawful access to “personal information, information about his or her interests and preferences, and perhaps, most importantly for a business, contact information and a built-in means of contact.” Id.
In order for a company to protect its social media accounts and to prevent competitors or former employees from gaining access to such accounts and attempting to wrongfully use that information, a company should develop a protocol to protect these valuable marketing tools. This may include protecting the secrecy of Twitter, MySpace and Facebook accounts by requiring a login and password to access the account, as well as keeping such login information and password restricted to “need to know personnel.” It may also be necessary for a company to carefully review its written social media policy, as well as contracts with employees and outside businesses to make certain the company retains ownership of contacts listed in its various social media accounts.