Who owns you?

20 08 2011

Two items of social media news have caught my attention this week.

1. Who owns you? A legal case where journalist, Laura Kuenssberg, amassed an enormous Twitter following, tweeting as part of her job. Her account even included her employer – @BBCLauraK. All sweet.

Until she changed jobs to ITV. Who owns the Twitter account?

Laura K's new Twitter feed - @ITVLauraK

Of course this instance is particularly complicated for the following reasons:

1. the account includes the identity of both the journo and her employer. Both have reputations at stake. Did people follow Laura, or were they following a BBC journalist? Or both – surely her credibility and newsworthiness related to her employment. Apparently some of the tweets were processed by BBC producers, and the twitter-feed was promoted on air.

2. The employer had asked her to tweet during work time and about work related matters. Therefore is it part of the product she produced for her employer in her paid time?

3. I am guessing here, but she probably tweeted in her own time as well. This complicates thngs a little.

4. She is a journalist, so she retains the copyright to her product under copyright law. However the product is not the same as the medium (Twitter).

Seems to me the only option is for the account to be abandoned after messages directing followers to both an alternate BBC feed and an alternate Laura K feed. That way everyone loses equally, and users get to chose which one – or both – they want to follow.

And that does appear to have happened. If you have a look at Laura’s new Twitter feed – @ITVLauraK- she is both thanking people for following her to the new feed, and referring them on to other BBC journalist Twitter accounts. Very graceful.

5/11/11 UPDATE : A court case in the UK has awarded an employee’s Linked-In contacts to the employer. Apparently this relates to the majority of the contacts being related to the employees’ work for the company (as they would be – given that LinkedIn is a professional networking site). See here for more details


2. Not Liked!
The data protection authority in Schleswig-Holstein, a state in Germany, has apparently outlawed the Facebook “like” button. I kid you not. (And no, it is not April 1 – I checked.)

This relates to the Facebook company collecting data such as our IP addresses when we click “Like” on the sites we visit. This information is then passed on to company servers in the US and saved for 90 days. It is this collection and retention of data that the data protection commissioner alleges contravenes German and European law.

Website owners in Schleswig-Holstein were ordered to immediately disable the *Like* buttons on their sites, and threatened with legal action if they failed to comply.

German Facebook Stats from http://www.socialbakers.com

Users were urged not to set up Facebook sites and to avoid clicking *Like* buttons in order to prevent themselves being profiled.

Something about King Canute springs to mind, but this is not Germany’s first foray into the battle with internet giants over privacy laws. And they have won in the past.

Google has allowed German citizens to blur their houses in Streetview. Facebook has also put controls over its Friend Finder, which mines email address books to identify contacts.

So will Germany join China in banning Facebook entirely? It seems unlikely in a democratic country, whose citizens are currently heavy users of Facbeook and other social media. Over 20million germans have Facebook accounts, approximately 25% of the population.

Will the law-makers of Germany win over the corporates at Facebook? And on whose side are the private citizens of Germany?

And finally, the burning question for the day: is the term private citizen an oxymoron in this day and age?




6 responses

17 01 2012
Major Disaster

I keep seeing people refer to “tweeting on your own time” as “complicating the situation;” but that is absolutely and unequivocally false! Whether or not you “tweet on your own time,” the ownership of the twitter followers is not, in any way, affected by that fact. The employment arrangement is really the driving factor.

For example, we often use “corporate e-mail” within “acceptable use guidelines” when, for example, a husband at work sends a message to his wife. That does not, in any way, “change” the fact that the corporate email (or twitter account) is still “owned by” the company. The fact that I sent a personal email does not, in any way, complicate the matter – definitley not in the United States – as for other countries, I have no idea.

If the laws of other countries are different, then someone please enlighten me but, in general, “personal use” of any resource (per conventional US laws) does not, in any way, change or affect the ownership of that resource. If so, then all someone would have to do is decide to “send a personal email,” in order to claim or challenge ownership to such resources.

17 01 2012
Major Disaster

As an addendum to my comment above, I meant to add that, in addition, an emoployee “tweeting on his/her own time” and/or using business resources on his/her own time also does NOT, in any way, complicate nor change the original intent nor ownership of the resources in question.

If I am at home, for example, tweeing on the “company account,” whether or not I incldue “personal tweets” STILL does not change the ownership, nor does it complicate anything (at least, not per U.S. laws).


17 01 2012

Yes, I agree, that is an interesting comparison. I guess the complicating factor here is whether the Twitter account is “owned” by the company in the same way that an email account run through company servers is. And I suspect the answer may be sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t! But I like your comparison nd suspect that will be the argument the company puts up in court.

Thanks for dropping by and contributing!

17 01 2012
Major Disaster

Even the parts above about a “journalist retaining ownership of copyright to material” also is wrong/flawed – again, as far as U.S. laws – not sure about U.K. or other countries.

Bottom line: In the U.S., the “company” owns the “social assets,” generally speaking – at least, following conventional laws where the employee “signs away” all ownership and rights to any materials (such as journalistic articles) developed “for the company, or using company resources.”

Additionally, the 5/11/11 UPDATE” also appears to be somewhat flawed; for example, it mentions (paraphrased) “…[Linked-In contacts belong to the company] … (as they would be – given that LinkedIn is a professional networking site).”

This is not at all true – it depends upon the context of the Linked-In account.
For example, my employer has nothing to do with my Linked-In contacts. If I were a “recruiter” of “social network guru,” that would be different but, for a typical person, UNLESS he/she is a ‘recruiter’ or other such position that “builds contacts AS part of their job,” then my Linked-In presence is “my own,” and belongs ONLY to me, personally. If the company had me use Linked-In to recruit for them and to build contacts, that would be a completely different story.

17 01 2012
Major Disaster

And you are right – sometimes the ‘company’ owns the account, and sometimes not – good points. I enjoyed your article very much!

17 01 2012

Hi – I meant that the Linked-in contacts of course would be related to the person’s work because that is how you gain professional contacts (and Linked-In is about professional contacts), not that they would therefore be owned by the company. However, that was the company in question’s argument in court.

I remember in the 1990s there was a case in Australia where a well-connected radio producer was changing comapnies and her previous employer sued her for her Rolodex – so nothing much changes! I can’t remember the outcome.

In Australia it is my understanding that the journalists do retain copyright to their material other than for the purpose for which it was produced (ie: the newspaper or magazine can obviously print it). This enables them to reprint their work in book format etc. Many journos do branch out into book authorship and the reprinting of a number of columns is an easy step in that direction for them. Having read a number of these types of books I am guessing that it is the same in the UK but haven’t specifically looked for any law regarding this from other countries.


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