A recent judgment of the English High Court underlines the importance of businesses having a clear policy on the ownership of social media accounts controlled by employees.
An interim injunction was granted by the Court requiring three former employees of Whitmar Publications Ltd to hand over “exclusive access, management and control” of a number of LinkedIn groups which were used by the company to promote its business. The injunction was granted as a preliminary measure pending a full hearing that will deal with claims regarding breaches of confidential information and database rights. After leaving Whitmar’s employment, the ex-employees set up a rival company and it was claimed that they had used Whitmar’s LinkedIn accounts for the benefit of that company. The Court was satisfied that Whitmar has a very good chance of succeeding at the full hearing of the case.
The fact that the management of the LinkedIn groups had been a duty of the employees whilst in the employment of Whitmar and that the groups were used by Whitmar to promote its business influenced the Court’s decision.
Despite the employer succeeding in this instance in asserting control over the social media accounts, this case makes clear that businesses should have a policy setting out how social media accounts on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are to be managed. The employer’s ownership of the accounts should be clearly stated and the management of such accounts by employees should be expressed to be a duty of their employment.
Given the increasing importance of social media in promoting brand awareness and for marketing activities, the importance of having such a policy in place cannot be ignored.