PhoneDog, a website that reviews and reports on mobile devices and services, has sued former employee Noah Kravitz for $340,000 over the ownership of the PhoneDog Twitter account and its followers.
Part of Kravitz’s duties at PhoneDog was to set up and use the company’s Twitter feed to promote PhoneDog. Kravitz opened a PhoneDog Twitter account linking it to his personal email account, @PhoneDog_Noah. Kravitz used the account to promote PhoneDog’s services and news.
Through his efforts, Kravitz increased the number of PhoneDog followers to 17,000.
After leaving PhoneDog, Kravitz continued to use the same Twitter account, only changing the name to @NoahKravitz. Through only changing the name of the account, Kravitz retained the 17,000 followers that had been following his Twitter feed for PhoneDog.
PhoneDog contends that Kravitz does not have ownership of the Twitter account or its followers, and needs to discontinue his use of that account. The lawsuit alleges that Kravitz was only given use of that account while employed by PhoneDog.
Additionally, PhoneDog asserts that Kravitz was asked to turn over the account at the time of his leaving.
Kravitz remembers things differently. He asserts that PhoneDog never asked him to relinquish the account or that the followers were the property of PhoneDog. Kravitz stated he used the account for business and for personal tweets while an employee of PhoneDog.
PhoneDog has valued each of its followers at $2.50 a month. Taking that value and multiplying it by the eight months since Kravitz left, you get the $340,000 that PhoneDog is suing Kravitz for.
At the time of the creation of the account, there was no formal social media policy in place at PhoneDog or any written documentation about ownership of Twitter followers.
What it will probably boil down to is if Kravitz was paid to create the account for the company or not.
This is an issue for all business and personal social media accounts: who do the followers belong to and who owns the account? What if you also use your personal account to promote your business? Can followers be “owned?”