Social media suit may place price on a tweet

An intellectual property dispute is brewing in federal court over the value of a tweet and the worth of a person who follows a social media site. A 38-year-old California writer is the subject of an intellectual property lawsuit brought by his former employer, Phonedog.com, an e-commerce site for mobile phones.

The writer created a Twitter account during his four-year stint at Phonedog.com, which eventually attracted 17,000 Twitter followers. The man stated that company officials agreed to let him keep the social media account after leaving the company. The agreement in October 2010 was made apparently after the departing writer agreed to include tweets about the mobile phone company.

The writer continued to use the account after dropping “Phonedog” from his Twitter account name. Eight months later, the ex-employer filed an intellectual property suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Phonedog.com claims the writer’s Twitter success was initiated by a company customer list. The mobile phone site wants $340,000, equivalent to eight months of perceived damages. The damage total places a $2.50 per month value on every Twitter follower in the writer’s account.

The California case could define who owns a social media account when its creator is or was a company employee. The case may set a value on social media followers, on tweets in Twitter and posts on Google Plus or Facebook.

One legal observer predicted the suit will focus on why the Twitter account was created. If the account was opened through a company customer list or was designed to expand a customer base, Phonedog.com may own it.

The writer being sued thinks the lawsuit filing is retaliatory. Phonedog.com is disputing the writer’s claim that the former employee is a vested partner and should receive 15 percent of the website’s advertising revenue.

Source: New York Times, “A Dispute Over Who Owns a Twitter Account Goes to Court,” John Biggs, Dec. 25, 2011