You work hard and build up a good collection of work contacts
and clients. In the old days you kept their phone numbers and
comments about them in your own little contact book.
Nowadays you might build up a public profile for you and your
company through social media – Tweets, Facebook and
blogging. You expand the number of followers and hits on the social
media and it brings in clients and customers to your employer.
You decide to leave and set up business by yourself or move to
So who owns the social media contacts you built up with your
On the one hand you used their equipment and company name to
expand your contacts. The company asked you to start up a Twitter
account and paid you to build up contact lists and social media
On the other hand it was your skills, dedication and hard work
that got the job done.
It's a very grey area in law. Very few companies have set up
proper social media policies clearly spelling out who owns the
content and who owns the Twitter account.
They'll need to do it soon as the issue is coming to the
crunch. In California a man is being sued by his former employer
because he left the mobile phone company where he was an online
spokesman and took his 17,000 Twitter followers with him. The
company is claiming the Twitter list was a customer database and
wants more than $350,000 in damages.
Employers in Australia are watching the development with
interest. They may have the right to cash in on their workers'
social media accounts when they leave the job.
At stake is the legal question of whether a Twitter list is
confidential information that has propriety or monetary value.
The case should be a warning to employers and employees to get
legal advice on drawing up a clear demarcation of who owns the
account and who owns the content.
Who owns workers' Twitter accounts aren't the only
social media issues that need legal clarity. What happens to your
Facebook page after you die? Or your name on other online accounts
such as PayPal, LinkedIn, blogs or Flickr?
Lawyers advise to spell out what you want to happen to these
online accounts in your will, just as you would with your property.
Legally designate someone to delete your Facebook and online
accounts. Leave all your passwords with your will.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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