Company Claims Ownership of Employee’s Social Media Account

    Marketing Expert WitnessThis case involves a woman who had degrees in communications, business and psychology. The woman founded a banking education company that provided services on-line and in person to the banking industry. The woman had published many articles in banking industry journals, did banking industry conferences all over the world, and was widely quoted in newspapers and magazines. An information services company later purchased the woman’s company in an attempt to bolster social media optimization efforts. The woman remained employed with her original company as an executive. The woman created a profile with a well-known business-oriented social networking site on the Internet. The woman used her profile as a sales and marketing tool for her company. The account agreement between the woman and the social networking site stated that the woman was the sole owner of the account. The woman was eventually fired by the company and the company changed the password to her social networking account, and locked her out of the account. The company got exclusive control of the account. The company changed the woman’s profile to reflect the name, picture, education, and experience of another woman who had been appointed as the interim CEO of the company. The URL of the account still showed that it was in the woman’s name. The woman sued the company for unauthorized use of her name.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. If an employee of a company creates a profile on a business-oriented social networking site, does the company have ownership of the employee’s account if the employee is fired?

    Expert Witness Response

    The employer in this case probably misappropriated the woman’s name in this case because her name probably had commercial value due to her reputation in the banking industry. Since the URL of the woman’s account still had her name on it, the company probably used the woman’s name without her consent for commercial purposes when it added the interim CEO’s profile to the account. This is because if a customer searched the Internet for the woman’s name or visited her profile page, they would be put in contact with the company (and the interim CEO) even though the woman had been fired from the company. The company’s actions in keeping the woman’s name in the URL were probably done to commercially benefit the company and they deprived the woman of the benefit of her name and this is illegal. Usually, there are very important steps that a company must take when employees establish social media accounts. First, the company must formally discuss with employees the importance of these types of accounts and must state in writing if it is the company’s policy that these accounts are the express property of the company. If a company plans to use an employee’s social networking account in its branding and marketing, the company must always draw up clear written policies about these types of online business profiles.

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