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Tech Site Sues Ex-Employee, Claiming Rights To His Twitter Account 267

Posted by timothy
from the depends-what-the-meaning-of-his-is dept.
nonprofiteer writes "Noah Kravitz worked as a mobile phone reviewer for a tech website called Phonedog for four and a half years. While there, he started a Twitter account (of his own volition) with the handle @PhoneDog_Noah to tweet his stories and videos for the site as well as personal stuff about sports, food, music, etc. When he left Phonedog, he had approximately 17,000 followers and changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz. This summer, Phonedog started barking that it wanted the Twitter account back, and sued Kravitz, valuing the account at $340,000 (!), or $2.50 per follower per month. Kravitz claims the Twitter account was his own property. A California judge ruled that the case can proceed and theoretically go to trial. Meanwhile, Kravitz continues to tweet."
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Tech Site Sues Ex-Employee, Claiming Rights To His Twitter Account

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:16PM (#38053206)

    It doesn't sound like the company asked him to do it.

    Sounds more like he setup a personal account and was just giving his own articles some free PR.

    Putting PhoneDog in the username is pretty stupid though and will definitely hurt his case.

  • by omnichad (1198475) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:16PM (#38053220) Homepage

    He even used Phonedog in his original handle, which further proves that this is "official." If it weren't somehow official, his employer would have claimed trademark violation on his Twitter account while he was still employed.
     
    I think this is a case of an ex-employee who didn't realize he was putting in free overtime.

  • by reebmmm (939463) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:20PM (#38053272)

    That's not the way things work, usually. If he cultivated his followers and created content using company resources (time, equipment, etc.) then the company probably has some right to it. But, it may partially depend on his employment agreement. His employment agreement probably says what it is they own in the context of content he created on the job.

    This is the reason that smart people don't use company resources to do creative things lest they be owned by their employer.

  • by Fujisawa Sensei (207127) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:21PM (#38053274) Journal

    Don't ever mix personal and employer projects, ever.

    Especially don't use your employer's name or trademarks in your personal projects.

    Hell in some states, depending on your terms of employment, even your personal projects can be seized by the company.

  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rs1n (1867908) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:25PM (#38053328)
    All he needs to do is create a new account and tweet about the issue. "I am moving to a new twitter handle nsert new handle here so please update accordingly if you would like to follow me after this handle is returned to Phonedog" Problem solved
  • by CmdrPony (2505686) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:25PM (#38053330)
    It doesn't matter if he was specifically asked to do so. He used the company's resources and time to make it, used company's name as part of his handle and it definitely was something directly linked to Phonedog. If you do something at your work time, it usually does belong to the company. It's so with your personal projects done at work time too. Hell, in some places your personal projects done outside your work time belong to your employer too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:26PM (#38053336)

    > He even used Phonedog in his original handle, which further proves that this is "official."

    Official what? It "proves" nothing.
    I create a Slashdot_Jack9 twitter, Slashdot has no rights to it. The fact that I work/do not work for Slashdot is irrelevant.

  • by Snotman (767894) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:31PM (#38053404)

    You are coming to a conclusion backwards. Because he had a twitter account with the company's name in it and they did not pursue a trademark violation, this does not mean that he did it with their permission. How do you reach this conclusion when it could be Phonedog did not protect their mark and he was improperly using their mark. If anything, I would be afraid if I was phonedog as being seen as complacent about enforcing their marks.It seems their may be a gray area here.

    However, may be like software development, if his tweeting was done with company resources, it may indeed be Phonedog's to keep.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:33PM (#38053438)

    The company never took any responsibility or control over the account. He made a personal account and tweeted what he felt like, which was sometimes work related. The people weren't signing up to follow the company, they were signing up to follow him.

    "If person would wanted to have own personal twitter, you should..."
    If a company wants an official twitter, then they can make one instead of claiming a personal one that they never managed and was only tangentially related to their business.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:33PM (#38053442)

    By that logic a company could claim the car you use to get to work, or your laptop you use in your workplace. He didn't develop anything.

  • by Snotman (767894) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:34PM (#38053450)

    Another rule is to not do anything personal on company resources. It is considered theirs because you did it on their resources which they consider their time too which means you did whatever for the benefit of them.

  • by msobkow (48369) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:42PM (#38053522) Homepage Journal

    They have the right to the handle with PhoneDog in it. Let them have it. But he doesn't use that handle any more; they don't have a right to his personal account.

  • by Fnord666 (889225) on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:57PM (#38053636) Journal

    He used the company's resources and time to make it,...

    If you do something at your work time,...

    Would you mind providing a citation for this? I didn't see anything in TFA that indicated he used any company time or resources to maintain the (arguably his) blog.

  • by multiben (1916126) on Monday November 14, 2011 @07:03PM (#38053686)
    Yes I agree completely. PR is a funny beast and someone at PhoneDog clearly doesn't understand that. People in general don't like seeing companies take petty action against employees (whether rightly or not). The damage they do to their brand will likely outweigh the value of the Twitter account they are trying to get their hands on. The longer this goes on, the worse the damage. If they weren't able to do this out of court amicably then they should have dropped it and gone on.
  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Monday November 14, 2011 @07:32PM (#38054020)

    I keep a close eye on all company assets.
    The company I work for has Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Google+ and a Website.
    We do a lot of promoting.
    All work PR is done through company owned channels.
    Hell. Just last week I had some shit head yelling at me because he does not want to have to use company email to converse with vendors for the company.
    I made him.
    If they did not make it and control it then fuck em.

  • by Ken D (100098) on Monday November 14, 2011 @08:31PM (#38054566)

    Twitter clearly indicates in their ToS that the service can only be used if you can enter a binding contractual relationship with Twitter.

    Unless the company gave him the ability to enter a contract with Twitter on the company's behalf, then the account is either in violation of the ToS, or it is personal.

    Twitter gives the company various options for dealing with an account that infringes their marks.

  • by Narcocide (102829) on Monday November 14, 2011 @09:47PM (#38055072) Homepage

    If only I had mod points. Why does nobody read the terms of service? All these "corporate" Twitter/Facebook/whatever accounts that these corporations think they own are in *complete* violation of the terms of service of those very sites. The only way this company could keep the account legally in the first place is if they also keep the employee who goes with it.

  • by mysidia (191772) * on Monday November 14, 2011 @11:52PM (#38055686)

    and if its related to your job but done out side of work time they own it too

    No... they own copyright to content you produce related to your job, as "work for hire". They don't own assets you create outside of work that you use in a manner related to your job.

    For example... if your job entails visiting clients; your company doesn't suddenly own your personal car, when you use it one day to drive to a client's office. If you use your personal e-mail account to contact a prospect that you happen to be friends with, or you provide your e-mail address or personal phone number as contact details for a client, and you wind up signing them up... your company doesn't suddenly own your e-mail account or your home phone number.

    They own the work that you provided to them, for example, the sale. They don't own personal property leveraged to do so.

    So... they could own the copyright to all the twitter posts, but it's still your account. What they could do is demand you take down all the twitter posts from your account that contain their intellectual property.

    Also.... you don't own the Twitter account in the first place, actually, Twitter owns it their ToS [twitter.com] says so: All right, title, and interest in and to the Services (excluding Content provided by users) are and will remain the exclusive property of Twitter and its licensors..

  • by Cyberllama (113628) on Tuesday November 15, 2011 @02:58AM (#38056664)

    I don't know how you use company resources to make a twitter account, and there's no real indication that he used company time either. He used their name as a way to distinguish himself from the guy who had @Noah already, but this was in the early days of twitter so there was no company policy on twitter. There was basically "no rule against it". There's a difference beween saying "personal projects" belong to your employer, and saying "Everything you do belongs to us". If he put his employers name in his Facebook profile, would they have rights to that?

    I think part of your perspective is that you're assuming the reason he got so many followers is because he presented himself as "Phonedog Noah" instead of just "Noah Kravitz" and therefore attracted people looking for "Phonedog". However this doesn't seem to be the case, as he's added another 4,000 followers since leaving Phonedog and changing his twitter handle. By all accounts, this is his personal twitter account and the only thing linking it to his former employer is simply the fact that he identified with them enough to have originally included their name as part of his handle.

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