A key issue today is who holds the rights to LinkedIn content created and maintained by employees in their professional capacity. A federal court recently decided that a dispute between an employer and employee regarding ownership of a LinkedIn account should proceed to trial. Litigation such as this highlights the growing need for businesses to clearly communicate social media policies.
In the federal lawsuit company co-founder and employee Linda Eagle, Ph.D. had established a LinkedIn account and used it to promote the company and herself professionally and also to establish and maintain personal relationships. After her termination, Dr. Eagle found she could no longer access the LinkedIn account associated with her name. Individuals searching for Dr. Eagle’s profile were now routed to an account displaying the name and photograph of the company’s new Interim CEO. This account listed the same honors, awards, recommendations, and connections as Dr. Eagle’s account had.
The company took the position that, after Dr. Eagle’s departure, the company effectively “owned” her LinkedIn account – leaving them free to mine information and incoming traffic provided they did not steal Dr. Eagle’s identity.soci They argued that since the company’s personnel developed and maintained all connections and much of the content on the LinkedIn account associated with Dr. Eagle’s name, they – not Dr. Eagle - owned it. Not surprisingly, Dr. Eagle claimed the account as her own and took issue with the company’s use of it after her departure.
Employee use of social media in the business context can implicate a host of legal issues ranging from intellectual property and use of technology to confidentiality and various workers’ rights. This case and others like it highlight that proactively addressing who owns social media content early and in writing can prevent later misunderstandings and expensive disputes.