Noah Kravitz (@noahkravitz), a writer who worked at PhoneDog, tweeted for four years as @Phonedog_Noah, amassing 17,000 followers. When he left the company in October 2010, he changed his Twitter name and kept his followers.
The company is now seeking damages of $2.50 per follower, per month — a total of $370,000 — claiming that the account's followers amounted to a customer list, and PhoneDog had invested substantial resources into building it.
Kravitz said PhoneDog had given him permission to continue using the account, and in exchange he would occasionally post on behalf of the company. Kravitz now has more than 22,000 followers.
The big question is, as The New York Times put it:
Can a company cash in on, and claim ownership of, an employee’s social media account, and if so, what does that mean for workers who are increasingly posting to Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus during work hours?
New York attorney Henry Cittone, who specializes in intellectual property cases, told UPI that the case "hinges on why the account was opened."
Cittone told UPI:
"This will establish precedent in the online world, as it relates to ownership of social media accounts. We've actually been waiting to see such a case as many of our clients are concerned about the ownership of social media accounts vis-a-vis their branding."
PhoneDog said it will "aggressively protect" its customer lists, the Times reported.