The New York Times reports that Phonedog.com is suing a former employee for the value of Twitter followers he accumulated during the course of their business relationship.
According to what Noah Kravitz told the NY Times, he ended his tenure with Phonedog on good terms, so when the company asked him to send out the occasional tweet to his 17,000 followers on its behalf, he agreed. He thereafter changed his handle from @Phonedog_Noah to @NoahKravitz, taking all of his followers with him.
But Phonedog wasn’t happy with the arrangement and sued its former employee requesting damages of $2.50 a month per Twitter follower — which adds up to well over a quarter of a million dollars ($340,000). The company claims that the Twitter followers are really a customer list, which Phonedog commented to the NY Times, “are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C.”
This federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California certainly speaks to the perceived if not actual value of social media in the business world, but can the value of a Twitter follower really be quantified? And if so, how? How did Phonedog come up with the $2.50 a month per follower figure — and how could a court make such a determination?
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising to start seeing employment contracts spell out explicitly to whom social media accounts truly belong — whether it’s the employee or the employer — if such provisions don’t exist already, but without an agreement beforehand, does an employer have the legal right to take over a Twitter account of an employee that was at least partly created and used under the guise of employment? Does it matter if the account was exclusively used for the company’s purposes? Primarily? Somewhat?
One thing is certain — this is a case to watch for both business owners and employees. We’ll keep you posted.
What do you think about who owns a Twitter account?