I read a great article today that highlighted four legal issues in social media to watch for in 2012.  You can read that article here: http://libn.com/youngisland/2012/01/13/social-media-legal-issues-to-watch-for-in-2012/

The two that jumped out at me are:

  • Social Media and Publicity Rights Issues
  • Who Owns a Twitter Account?

The first one basically relates to “the question of a person’s rights to the commercial use of their name, portrait or picture in social media platforms”. Meaning, if Facebook uses my photo or info in an advertisement, do they have the right to do so without my consent?  Lot of grey area there.  I am sure there is something in their user agreement that gives them the right to do so, but when was the last time you read one of those things?  My suggestion to all of my clients is this, when using the likeness of anyone in their ads (photo or video), make sure that you get a signed release from the “talent”.  If you are using “stock photography or video” make sure you also have the clearance documents that give you the rights to use those as well.  This is just a good practice to get into to CYA in case any issues arise.

The second issue about who owns a twitter account, or any social media account for that matter, stems from an employee that set up a twitter account to share information about his employer.  The employee had gained 17,000 followers and when he left the company, he took the twitter account with him.  Initially, the company said he could keep the account in exchange for “tweeting” about the company occasionally. Eight months later the company sued the employee for taking a “customer list” and is seeking damages of $340,000.

Two issues I have here, one, the company never should have let the employee be the only one to have access rights to the twitter account.  It should have been set up to allow for multiple users through something like Hootsuite, etc.  This way the company would have retained control over the account.

Secondly, the twitter account handle included the company name and the employee’s name. (Phonedog_Noah to be exact.) To me, this signifies that this is an employee or someone closely tied to the company Phonedog, especially if they are publishing content specifically about the company.  In my opinion, the employee should never have asked to take the site with him.  Clearly this was company property and access should have been handed over along with his office keys.  This too will be interesting to watch to see where the courts come down on this one.  Both in the ownership category and the “value of a twitter follower” category. $340,000 for 17,000 followers? Really?

Again, my recommendation to clients that have employees or third parties tweeting or facebooking for their business is to make sure they have all of the usernames and passwords associated with an account, and to make sure that those users are only given certain permissions inside the social media channels they are using.  Doing these two little things can save you a lot of headaches down the road, and it makes a clear distinction as to who owns the accounts being used.

As always, if you and your business are ready to make the step into social media, or need to restart or amp up your efforts, I stand ready to serve.  You can reach me at kelly@ampedupdigital.com.  Thanks for reading.