Access to Social Media Rights-Business Owner vs. Former Employee

Silhouettes of stressed business woman in the office.

So you’re a Business Owner and active on social media. A rogue employee wishes to leave employment and take the ownership rights of the social media account with them. How can you prevent loss of the social media account, including the names, addresses, etc. that go along with it?

CDM Media USA Inc. v. Simms 2015 WL 1399050 gives some instruction on the prevention of this common threat presented to businesses when an employee leaves its employer.  CDM Media USA, Inc.(CDM), the employer brought suit alleging that after leaving its employment, Robert Simms misappropriated the special LinkedIn group account name which he had regularly used and accessed while employed by CDM.  The LinkedIn account contained CDM’s customers and potential customers and was originally formed by CDM. The legal theory asserted that the LinkedIn group account was hijacked by Simms and that it contained trade secrets and this action represented a breach of the non-compete agreement that Simms signed.

Simms claimed that CDM had no property rights in the information and that he was not contractually required to relinquish the information since it was not covered by terms of the non-compete agreement.  The case remains pending, and so while property rights have not yet been determined, consider a few helpful actions to take.

What should the Business Owner or Employer do?  First, implement at a minimum, a social media policy that covers ownership and access to business-related social media accounts.  This can be supplied in an Employment Handbook, an employment contract or a stand-alone policy document that is acknowledged by the employee.  The policy should be clear that when the employment relationship ends, so does any access rights the employee had, together with all account information and communications.  Policies, agreements, and communications should be clear that these increasingly valuable mediums contain confidential and proprietary information, and should only be deemed the property of the business owner or employer.  Finally, as you recover possession of keys to the office, make sure that you also check the box that you promptly change passwords to the social media accounts held by the business.

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