Although Twitter may have started out as a social networking tool, more and more businesses are using it as a marketing tool. A lot of people have Twitter accounts that they think of as a tool to promote their own careers. Sometimes, in the process of promoting their careers, they may do a little cross-promotion for their employer. After all, if it’s good for the company, it’s good for the employee, usually. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” to quote John F. Kennedy. But if you use your Twitter account to promote your company as well as yourself, then who owns the account?
A current legal case filed with the US District Court in the Northern District of California involving a private individual who used his Twitter account to boost his employer seeks to answer this question. PhoneDog, a mobile products website, is suing its former employee, Noah Kravitz, for $340,000.
PhoneDog says that Kravitz was “given use of” a Twitter account while he worked there, and that he continued to use the account after he left the firm, constituting theft of trade secrets and damage to the PhoneDog’s “business, goodwill, and reputation.”
PhoneDog says that the Twitter account @PhoneDog_Noah was used by Kravitz to “disseminate information and promote PhoneDog’s services on behalf of PhoneDog.” Kravitz counters that he created the account, linked it to his email address and used it to tweet the things that mattered to him personally, including tweets related to his career and PhoneDog, as well as sports and food, among other subjects.
In fact, says Kravitz, the account wouldn’t work as well if it didn’t combine both personal and career elements. “It’s this melding of personal and professional which is why I’ve gained a modest following,” he said in an interview, “Because it’s not just the dry headline and link to something.”
PhoneDog claims in the lawsuit that it asked Kravitz to drop the account when he left the company. Instead, it claims, he kept the account but changed the handle. Kravitz tells a different story. He says PhoneDog didn’t ask any such thing. Instead, he says, it gave him a green light to keep using the account and even to mention the company. “At no point until July of this year, a good 8 months after we parted ways, did they ask for the twitter account or claim in was their property.”
In the lawsuit, PhoneDog claims that Kravitz’ post-employment use of the account is an attempt “…to discredit PhoneDog and destroy the confidence that PhoneDog’s users have in PhoneDog.”
According to Henry J. Cittone, an intellectual property attorney, the crucial question is going to be whether Kravitz was paid to create the account and to send Tweets. “They said they hired him to create this feed for them. That is the way the company could dislodge a Twitter feed from its owner.”
Sylvester, Oppenheim & Linde represents businesses and their owners in most types of litigation. If your business has a legal problem, contact Richard Oppenheim directly for a prompt, no charge initial consultation. You may use the contact form in the left column or call 818-461-8500.