In a case that underscores the transitory nature of social media assets, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently ruled that Facebook “likes” cannot be stolen because they are not a form of intellectual property. The case is Mattocks v. Black Entertainment Television LLC, No. 13-61582 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 20, 2014).
In 2008, the plaintiff Stacey Mattocks created a Facebook fan page for “The Game,” a television series that aired on the CW Network from 2006 to 2009 and was later acquired by BET. In 2010, BET hired Mattocks as a part-time worker to manage the fan page she had created. While working for BET, Mattocks posted most of the material on the page, but BET also supplied her with exclusive content for the page and also prominently displayed its trademarks and logos in the top header of the page. While Mattocks worked for BET, the number of “likes” on the fan page grew from around two million to over six million.
BET and Mattocks later entered into a short letter agreement in which Mattocks granted BET administrative access to the fan page and allowed BET to update the content on the page “as determined by BET in its sole discretion.” Mattocks admitted that the agreement gave BET full access to the fan page.
After signing the letter agreement, Mattocks and BET discussed the possibility of BET employing Mattocks full time. To gain leverage in those discussions, Mattocks informed BET that she would be demoting BET’s administrative access to the fan page so BET would have to go through her to post and update content. Following its loss of full access to the fan page, BET created an official series page for “The Game” and asked Facebook to migrate fans to the official page. BET also sent Mattocks a letter terminating their agreement and asked Mattocks to stop using any BET material on the fan page.
Facebook granted BET’s request to migrate fans to the official page and shut down Mattocks’ fan page. Mattocks sued, claiming among other things that BET had converted a business interest she owned in the fan page. The court rejected this claim, holding that Facebook “likes” cannot constitute a property interest because users are free to revoke them at any time. As such, they “cannot be converted in the same manner as goodwill or other intangible business interests.”