When celebrated writer Ambrose Bierce said, ‘Death is not the end. There remains the litigation over the estate’; he did not envisage its extension to employment situations, where parting of ways could lead to a lot of heartburn over the employee’s LinkedIn contacts and Twitter followership – all amassed during the course of their employment. Many are inevitably leading to litigation too, especially when the employee leaves in hostility or because of an offer from a competitor – or an entrepreneurial venture in the same space!
When employers rely upon an employee’s Twitter feeds and LinkedIn contacts to build brand image and customer loyalty, what recourse will they have when that employee switches over to a rival, as with Phonedog’s Noah Kravitz who carried away 17000 Twitter followers when he left the company? Both are now embroiled in a bitter legal battle that is yet to declare either side as a winner. The questions raised covers the claim of a company to the followers, fans and brand awareness it has worked to build – and the intellectual property rights in which it has invested resources as well as money.
As an individual, the content created by you and posted to sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or others is still yours; as long as you are careful with setting your privacy rights and the rights over the work you post and may have to affirm that it is does not infringe upon someone else’s intellectual property. The rights in the material can even pass to your estate or legal heirs. However, in a corporate environment, the employment arrangement needs to include an agreement between the parties clarifying the ownership of followers, blog traffic, contacts and other content. This is especially important in where an employee’s social media presence is useful for both official and personal purposes – though a result of the employee’s personal attributes like creativity, writing skills, intelligence, wit and humour.
Employers may protect their interests:
It pays both employers and employees to avoid disputes and heartache, through adopting mutually accepted standards; instead of investing emotions and time while incurring huge amounts of money towards expensive lawsuits over a contacts/followers, of unspecified valuation.
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