[author: Andy Pushalik]
In a decision that may one day be cited by Canadian courts on the extent of an employer’s rights over its social media properties, the United States District Court for Colorado has ruled that an employer’s MySpace Profile and “Friends” list can qualify as trade secrets.
In Christou et al. v. Beatport LLC et al., Regas Christou sued former employee turned rival nightclub owner, Bradley Roulier, for, amongst other things, theft of trade secrets. In particular, Christou alleged that Roulier had misappropriated the login information for the MySpace profiles of Christou’s nightclubs as well as their corresponding MySpace “Friends” lists.
Following a motion brought by Roulier to dismiss Christou’s trade secrets claim, the Court ruled that Christou had alleged sufficient facts to allow the claim to proceed. In so doing, the Court accepted Christou’s argument that the “Friends” list was more than a list of names; rather it was closer to a database of contact information:
“The names themselves, readily available to the public, are not the important factor. The ancillary information connected to those names cannot be obtained from public directories and is not readily ascertainable from outside sources, and thus this militates in favor of trade secret classification.”
In addition, having secured the MySpace profiles of his various nightclubs through web profile logins and passwords and expended some amount of money, time and resources into developing the list of “Friends”, Christou further bolstered the viability of his trade secret claim at this early stage in proceedings.
While this case dealt only with MySpace and therefore did not address other commonly used social media websites such as LinkedIn or Facebook, it nonetheless demonstrates the steps that employers should take to protect the social media accounts that have been registered on behalf of the company. In those circumstances, employers should be careful to limit access to the company’s social media profiles to only those employees who are responsible for establishing and advancing the company’s on-line presence. There is no reason for every employee to have access to the company’s on-line accounts. In addition, employers should also amend their policies and contracts to clearly indicate that the ownership of the contacts listed on these social media accounts rests with the employer.