Phonedog Sues Former Writer for Value of 17,000 Twitter Followers

Share Your Thoughts: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

Social Media Risk

 

Who Owns Your Social Accounts?

 

Phonedog Sues Former Writer for Value of 17,000 Twitter Followers

Across the beautiful Cooper River Bridge from Charleston, SC is a quiet little place called Mt. Pleasant, home to small boutiques, quaint restaurants, and one of the most intriguing lawsuits related to Social Media that we’ve seen.  Phonedog.com, a Mt. Pleasant, SC company filed suit earlier this year against a former writer for ownership of a Twitter account to the tune of $340,000.

As discussed this fall in our Social Media Risk series of webinars, ownership of social accounts must be clearly defined with predetermined terms for handover (or not) should there be a change in personnel, contractors or consultants.

In the case of Phonedog, Twitter accounts used by writers are a mix of phone reviews, humor, sports – they are what social media on Twitter is – engaging.

Phonedog as a company is deeply invested in Social Media; as per their website,

PhoneDog Media is a highly interactive mobile news and reviews resource that attracts a community of more than 2.5 million unique visitors each month. The site may have a ‘cute’ name, but it offers up serious editorial content and video reviews that users rely on to make important decisions about their next mobile purchases.

 

PhoneDog reviews the latest products and services across all carriers and platforms, giving users the resources needed to research, compare prices, and shop from those providers that fit their needs. Site editors are highly engaged, frequently replying to comments and forum threads and elevating the conversation to the next level.

One such Editor was Noah Kravitz. As detailed in a NYT article on Christmas Day 2011:

“In October 2010, Noah Kravitz, a writer who lives in Oakland, Calif., quit his job at a popular mobile phone site, Phonedog.com, after nearly four years. The site has two parts — an e-commerce wing, which sells phones, and a blog.

 

While at the company, Mr. Kravitz, 38, began writing on Twitter under the name Phonedog_Noah, and over time, had amassed 17,000 followers. When he left, he said, PhoneDog told him he could keep his Twitter account in exchange for posting occasionally.

 

The company asked him to “tweet on their behalf from time to time and I said sure, as we were parting on good terms,” Mr. Kravitz told the NYT by telephone.”

 

But eight months after Mr. Kravitz left the company, PhoneDog sued, saying the Twitter list was a customer list, and seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000.

PhoneDog Media issued a statement: “The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C. We intend to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.”

Mr. Kravitz may currently be found at TechnoBuffalo.com and has a good fanbase in support of his position such as http://savenoahkravitz.com/. Additionally, this story has been covered by The New York Times, CNN, the BBC and a host of others.  Could Phonedog be damaging their brand by pursuing this suit?
 
 
 
  
 
While it will be interesting to watch what could well be a landmark case in Social Media Law, Firestorm’s position on this has been clear; if a social media account carries the company’s brand, it is owned by the company and must be released back to the company at the end of a relationship.  In the case of a Contractor or Social Media Consultant who opens and publishes to an account specifically for the benefit of a company, there must be clear language that protects the company’s ability to regain control of said account once the relationship with the contractor or consultant concludes.

While the account was created in the early days of Twitter use, the account ownership issue should have been revisited over the course of the relationship.

As quoted from the NYT article by Henry J. Cittone, a lawyer in New York who litigates intellectual property disputes:

“This will establish precedent in the online world, as it relates to ownership of social media accounts. We’ve actually been waiting to see such a case as many of our clients are concerned about the ownership of social media accounts vis-á-vis their branding.”

 

Mr. Cittone added that a particularly important wrinkle is what value the court might set on the worth of one Twitter follower to a media company, saying the price set could affect future cases involving ownership of social media.

 

“It all hinges on why the account was opened,” he said.

 

“If it was to communicate with PhoneDog’s customers or build up new customers or prospects, then the account was opened on behalf of PhoneDog, not Mr. Kravitz. An added complexity is that PhoneDog contends Mr. Kravitz was just a contractor in the related partnership/employment case, thus weakening their trade secrets case, unless they can show he was contracted to create the feed.”

Noah’s final video for Phonedog.com in October 2010 was very supportive of the company and their relationship.  We’ll be keeping an eye on this case as it evolves.
 

Share Your Thoughts: Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedin

HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?