According to Forbes.com the ongoing battle over who owns social media contacts — the employer or the employee — heated up today with another employer suing a former employee over ownership of a social media account and its contacts.
This time the employer is suing for actual and punitive damages at $2.50 per follower per month, claiming that the employee had no right to take his Twitter followers with him when he left the company. There was no employment agreement in place that addressed social media contacts, and the employee changed the name on the account and used it for nearly a year before his former employer sued.
This follows our story three weeks ago (which Forbes was kind enough to pick up as a guest post on Forbes.com), and is surely only the latest in a series of lawsuits that govern ownership of social media contacts. Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill notes that the lawsuit filed by PhoneDog.com (a web review site for cell phones, applications, and accessories) against former product reviewer Noah Kravitz is the first one to seek actual monetary damages and cite a “per follower, per month” value for social media contacts.
When Kravitz left PhoneDog, he had approximately 17,000 followers and changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz from @PhoneDog_Noah. Since he left last year, he’s added another 4,000 followers to his new account which, PhoneDog says, means that he owes them $340,000, or $2.50 per follower per month.
As I’ve written before, this isn’t going to be the last employee sued by an employer over social media contacts. The only way to make sure that you aren’t one of them is to take care to understand the legal documents you may have signed when you started to work, and to clarify ownership of any pre-existing social media accounts and contacts before you take a new job.