Legal case questions ownership of Twitter followers

Legal case questions ownership of Twitter followers

A mobile phone news site is suing an ex-employee, claiming he stole the organisation’s Twitter followers after leaving the company and refusing to hand over an account.  

Noah Kravitz worked as a reviewer for the site, Phonedog, for over four years. He created the account in 2007 when he started with the firm, choosing the handle @Phonedog_Noah to tweet to the 17,000 followers he gained since.

Kravitz left Phonedog in October 2010 and changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz but last summer, the organisation demanded the account back and set upon suing Kravitz for their projected worth of the account, $340,000 or $2.50 per follower per month.

Phonedog claimed in its lawsuit that its followers and Kravitz’s Twitter password were its “trade secrets”. The site, which attracts approximately 1.5m visitors each month, uses various social media channels, including Twitter, to drive traffic to its site.

The company said in 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.'

According to the complaint, Kravitz’s actions were “designed to disrupt, and [have] in fact disrupted, PhoneDog’s economic relationships with its existing and prospective users.”

Judge James stated that PhoneDog’s economic relationships had suffered as a result of Kravitz’s taking of the account and declined to dismiss the suit, as requested by Kravitz. The case will now move forward to be heard later this year, and could define the ownership of a Twitter account and the value of a Twitter follower.

Kravitz told Forbes: “No one asked me to create the account. No one told me what to tweet there. I had no inkling then that [having a Twitter account] would become an essential part of being a so-called journalist.

“[With an employer] in the future, I would make it clear that a social networking account is mine and that I own it and its contacts.”

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