Noah Kravitz worked for Phonedog, a cellphone review site, for over four years, and tweeted for the Web site as @Phonedog_Noah. However, once he left the job, he changed it to @NoahKravitz - and Phonedog isn't happy about that.
When Noah Kravitz left, the twitter account had over 17,000 followers. Phonedog has filed a suit against him, saying that those followers constitute a customer list, and since they have put substantial resources into building it, it is rightfully theirs. The suit asks for damages of $2.50 per user per month, which adds up to $340,000.
Kravitz told the New York Times that Phonedog told him he could keep the account, so long as he would tweet on their behalf from time to time. Kravitz said he would, since the split was amicable.
Phonedog denied a comment to the New York Times, only saying The costs and resources invested by PhoneDog Media into growing its followers, fans and general brand awareness through social media are substantial and are considered property of PhoneDog Media L.L.C. We intend to aggressively protect our customer lists and confidential information, intellectual property, trademark and brands.
This lawsuit, however, may have a much wider effect than just on Kravitz and Phonedog. Many analysts expect this to set a precedent for future lawsuits over social media accounts.
Barbara Cookson, an intellectual property lawyer in the UK, told BBC that Companies will now be developing careful ways of deciding if they want to tweet with a conjoined account. She went on to say that it is hard to put a value on a Twitter follower.
Henry J. Cittone, a lawyer in New York, told the New York Times that much of the case would come down to the reason why Phonedog created the Twitter account.
If it was to communicate with PhoneDog's customers or build up new customers or prospects, then the account was opened on behalf of PhoneDog, not Mr. Kravitz, he said. An added complexity is that PhoneDog contends Mr. Kravitz was just a contractor in the related partnership/employment case, thus weakening their trade secrets case, unless they can show he was contracted to create the feed.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Kravtiz's followers have increased to 22,859. He has posted several times about the lawsuit, saying Following me will not cost me money. Seriously. Can't believe I'm saying this! Follow if you want, it's FREE! along with the hashtag #2.50.
His most recent Tweet, however, is most telling. Social Media Users: Be very careful when using your company's name in your online handles. Never know how/when your employers might react.