A fight over control of a legal blog has spilled into Federal Court with allegations of unfair competition, infringement, and conspiracy.
Law firm Stites & Harbison, PLLC sued three former attorneys in a Kentucky federal court (Stites & Harbison, PLLC v. Michels et. al., 3:15-cv-00077 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 22, 2015)), claiming that the attorneys changed contact information and passwords related to social media accounts for a firm blog to promote their new company.
According to the Complaint, the blog, which is called “Trademarkology,” was approved by Stites management after a request by attorneys James Michels and William Ferrell. The blog was apparently linked to five social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Google Plus, which republished blog content.
The Complaint alleges that Michels, Ferrell, and another blog contributor, Kevin Hartley, resigned from the firm, and shortly thereafter changed contact information and passwords for the blog’s social media accounts. The firm claims that the social media accounts now route internet traffic to a competing firm called Trust Tree Legal PC, which was incorporated by Hartley.
Stites has sued the three attorneys for unfair competition, conversion, infringement, breach of fiduciary duty, and conspiracy.
Aside from the irony, this case reflects the challenges that employers face when allowing employees control over social media accounts. Who owns the site and its content? Did the employer take sufficient steps at the outset to establish ownership over the site? What else could the firm have done to prevent what happened?
On a similar note, has your company taken proactive measures to ensure ownership of social media sites? If so, what steps have you taken?