Who Owns Your Twitter Followers or LinkedIn Connections?

Gray Reed
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For 99% of us, it really won’t ever be an issue — our social media presence just isn’t that important.  Unless your job is to tweet or drive traffic to the company website, your company probably won’t even want your twitter followers who read what you had for lunch or your take on the Republican primary.  Looper Reed doesn’t want  @traviscrabtree if I leave and some would sleep a little better if it were gone.    

But what about the celebrities, media types and marketers who use their accounts to the benefit of their employers? 

The easy answer is that you should take care of it contractually, which given several high profile cases should not be ground breaking.  This issue is not new for journalists.  CNN and Rick Sanchez went through this in November of 2010 when CNN terminated him after he used @ricksanchezcnn and had 150,000 followers.   They agreed to let him have @ricksancheznews. 

The New York Times settled its case against AOL recently.  Lisa Belkin wrote a blog named “Motherlode” for the Times before she left for AOL’s Huffington Post and rebranded the blog as “Parentload.”  The New York Times sued claiming the name was too similar and meant to confuse or steal its readers.  The Huffington Post decided to drop the name.  

If it is not covered in a contract, then be logical about how you create  and use the account.  If you are the individual tweeting, then don’t put the company brand in your Twitter name. Even if my law firm might have a problem if I left after acquiring a large following @bulldoglooperreedlawyer.  If you are a company paying someone to bring you followers or connections, make them use a branded handle.

Until there are more cases, the answer of owns the account will be very fact specific; the most important being whether the followers are there because of the brand or because of the individual.  Factual issues often require trials.  Trials are expensive.  Therefore, factual issues can be expensive.  Take care of it contractually and eliminate the factual issues.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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