Who owns the social media content created and maintained in the course of employment? Work product is traditionally the proprietary interest of the employer. But there’s something different about social media content.
A blog created by a company employee during company time on a company computer with a focus on the company’s products may be straightforward – the blog and its content are owned by the company.
LinkedIn: Where the battle will likely take place
But what about LinkedIn? I've blogged about the @PhoneDog_Noah case and the ownership of Twitter followers in the past, but the future battle will no doubt be focused on LinkedIn. While the LinkedIn User Agreement is between the individual and LinkedIn, the reality is, a key purpose of LinkedIn is to either generate business in one’s current occupation (i.e. increase your employer’s business), or to generate business and connections for the next position (i.e. for the next employer).
The question is whether the development of connections and of one’s network in general is as a result of one’s individual personality, or as a result of one’s association with a company name. In other words, do people connect with me because I’m a lawyer at XYZ LLP, or because of my individual personality/voice? I suspect in most cases, for most people, it’s a combination of the two.
And it’s this combination that makes LinkedIn different than a traditional Rolodex. A company’s customer list is the company’s property, and a departing employee cannot take that list with her.
But in the modern world of social media, do you take your LinkedIn connections with you? I’m guessing 100% of us believe that we do – it’s our own individual account. And LinkedIn would agree. But will your employer?
You Own My Relationships?!
A Gen-Y employee would find it rather unseemly that their relationships with their colleagues, friends, and general network is somehow owned by one’s employer. None of us expect to stay with the employer for 30 years anymore. Compiling, developing and working hard to nurture our network of relationships is a critical tool of business that we need to take with us.
Conversely, employers have a good reason to assert a proprietary interest over its customer list.
Let the battle begin.
Stay tuned to my next post where I will debrief about the Eagle v Morgan case, one of the few cases out there that has gone to trial on the issue of LinkedIn content ownership.