Shakespeare’s Juliet famously wondered, “What’s in a name?” With a 21st century twist, one could ask: What’s in a Twitter handle?
That’s the issue before the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California this month when it hears a case between PhoneDog (a website providing cellphone news and reviews) and ex-employee Noah Kravitz. While working at PhoneDog, Kravitz wrote tweets under the handle @PhoneDog_Noah — similar to the way I do as @EBNews_editor.
No big deal — that is, until Kravitz left the company but continued to tweet under the name. That’s where PhoneDog had a problem, claiming that it owned both the Twitter account and Kravitz’s 17,000 followers, according to Workforce Management senior editor and blogger Ed Frauenheim.
Even more, PhoneDog asserts that the follwers are worth $2.50 a month, and that Kravitz owes the company $340,000 for the eight months he used the @PhoneDog_Noah handle after he left.
Who knew 140 characters could be so complicated and expensive?
For his part, Kravitz claims that PhoneDog asked him to continue tweeting after he left the company, Frauenheim writes, and also points out that “the account itself is the exclusive property of Twitter, not PhoneDog. The account's followers, on the other hand, are humans and … humans in the United States are not ‘property’ and cannot be owned.”
As I’ve said many times before, I’m not an attorney and, with a few exceptions, I generally punt on taking a stance on legal issues. So, staying consistent, I put the question to you readers: Who’s right? Can employees tweet freely using a company name? Can an employer truly own a Twitter account? More importantly, could sound policy have prevented this whole debacle? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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