In legal circles, we’ve all been anxiously awaiting a result in the case of Eagle v. Morgan (download here) — a case out of Pennsylvania where the issue who owned a LinkedIn page and contacts (the employee vs. the employer) was front and center.
I talked about it in a post late last year, but if you still need to get up to speed on the case, the Employer Law Report blog has an excellent recap here. I won ‘t repeat what is said there, but I do want to focus on a few things.
The case is not terribly complex both legally and factually.
In the main claim, the former company founder alleged that the company wrongly took over her LinkedIn account (and using her password) in an attempt to divert business back to the company. She alleged a variety of legal theories associated with such an action.
The company, in turn, had filed a counterclaim that the employee misappropriated the LinkedIn account. It argued that it had invested time and effort into employees’ LinkedIn account.
As to the counterclaim, the court rejected it because the company never had a policy that required, for example, required its employees to use LinkedIn. A big flaw in the argument was that the LinkedIn User agreement says that the accounts are between LinkedIn and the individual. Therefore, the Company had no business idea that was misappropriated.
The employee was able to show that the company “used” her name and derived commercial benefit from her likeness. The employee also prevailed on her invasion of privacy claim and misappropriation of publicity claim as well.
But such a victory is a hollow one for the employee.
The court ultimately concluded that the employee could not establish monetary damages to a reasonable degree of certainty. Without this crucial element, the court does not award any damages.
What’s the takeaway?
The case rests mainly under Pennsylvania state law, so its application to Connecticut isn’t directly transferable. But some of the principles are likely to be applied in a similar fashion.
So, employers would be wise to use this case as a warning that courts are not ready to throw out an employee’s claims that his or her publicity or privacy rights were violated. Indeed, if an employee can show actual monetary harm, a court may award damages too.
More importantly, the case emphasizes, yet again, the need for clear social media policies and practices. If you believe your company owns a social media account, state it clearly and make sure the paperwork supports that view.
As social media continues to grow, these types of disputes may become more common. Getting clarity at the outset will ultimately save a company time and heartburn later on.