So when a blogger, tweeter or Facebook updater leaves the company, the personality, name, message string and all the associated good will and contact information part of the company's intellectual property, at least from the point of view of the company.
My tweets, my followers…my Twitter account
From the point of view of Noah Kravitz, who spent four years blogging and tweeting under the name Phonedog_Noah as part of his job at online phone-information site PhoneDog.com, the name Phonedog_Noah, the 17,000 followers and all the good will amassed by his own writing andthinking should belong to him.
Eight months after Kravitz left PhoneDog, according to the NYT, PhoneDog sued him to get the name and Twitter list back.
It is seeking $2.50 per month per customer in damages. Over eight months, that totals $340,000.
Aside from the unfairness of expecting Kravitz to retroactively pay for the attention of a list of customers PhoneDog apparently didn't ask for when he left the company, the suit raises questions many companies have been dealing with for years, though rarely in court.
If an employee uses a personal social-networking account to help promote the company, when that employee leaves, should the account go, too?
Maybe, if the account used the company name in it and was set up specifically to promote that company's business.
What if the account existed before the job and would exist after? Should a personal Twitter identity become part of a former employer's other assets as soon as you quit?
It seems obvious to me that accounts created specifically as part of a job and used primarily for that purpose could be considered property of the employer.
The PhoneDog/Kravitz suit probably won't provide a clear answer
Accounts created before the job, or used heavily for reasons other than work, probably shouldn't, just as your car wouldn't become property of an employer just because 90 percent of the driving you did in it was for work.
The Kravitz/PhoneDog case gets more complicated than just issues about prior ownership.
Kravitz claims the demand for reparation for kidnapping 17,000 Twitter followers is retaliation for his own claim – made in a previously filed lawsuit – for salary he was never paid while a video reviewer and blogger for PhoneDog and for 15 percent of the site's total ad revenue because he did that work while he was a vested partner in PhoneDog.
Kravitz told the NYT that PhoneDog told him he could continue using the Twitter account as long as he would "tweet on their behalf from time to time."
Kravitz changed the PhoneDog handle to NoaKravitz, kept all his followers and kept on writing.