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I recently gave a talk on Social Media and the Law and reported on the case Eagle v. Morgan, No. 11-4303 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 4, 2012) which concerned the the hot topic of “social media ownership” and who owns a Linkedin account?

I now understand that a decision was issued last week in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and thank you to the Delaware Employment Law Blog for their recent informative blog post setting our the background to this case.

In this case the plaintiff, Dr. Linda Eagle, co-founded the Defendant EdComm, Inc., in 1987 and the company was thereafter purchased in 2010.  Dr. Eagle’s employment was terminated shortly after the company was purchased however prior to this, EdComm’s CEO encouraged all EdComm employees to create a profile on LinkedIn listing EdComm as their current employer.

Dr. Eagle, with the help of a designated EdComm employee set up a LinkedIn account and profile. The company had a policy that required employees to use their company e-mail address in their LinkedIn profile and to set up their profiles using a company-created template.

The company had a general policy in place that when an employee separated from EdComm, the company “would effectively ‘own’ the LinkedIn account and could in essence “mine” the information and incoming traffic, so long as it did not steal that former employee’s identity.”

On the day her employment was terminated, Dr. Eagle attempted to log into her LinkedIn account but was not able to do so. The next day, the company announced its new executive management team, including Dr. Eagle’s replacement. Using Dr. Eagle’s password, EdComm accessed her account and changed the password, thereby precluding her from future access. It also changed the account profile to display the successor’s name and photograph. Dr. Eagle’s honors, awards, recommendations, and connections, however, were unchanged.

Dr. Eagle brought a claim asserting numerous state and federal statutory and common law causes of action and thereafter she was able to regain access to her account, although she was not able to retrieve messages sent to and from the account for some additional period of time. The company asserted various counter-claims, which Dr. Eagle moved to dismiss.

In December 2011, the court denied the motion to dismiss, finding that the “connections” had value for the company. The parties completed discovery and Defendant moved for summary judgment.

In an opinion dated October 4, 2012, Judge Buckwalter granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and Lanham Act claims, while preserving her state law claims for later resolution, holding that Dr Eagle did not:

  • present any evidence that she suffered a legally cognizable loss or damages while her LinkedIn account was accessed and controlled by Edcomm, and that she therefore could not maintain claims under the CFAA.
  • meet her burden of showing that the defendants’ use of her LinkedIn account caused a likelihood of confusion, in part because the account displayed Morgan’s name and photo, and that she therefore could not maintain her claim under the Lanham Act.

The case therefore is unlikely to shed any real light over the issue of ownership of LinkedIn accounts but there are a few in the pipeline which it is hoped will begin to give some guidance in this ever increasingly litigated area of law.

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