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Who really “owns” contacts and accounts on social media?

A recent High Court ruling over ownership of LinkedIn groups has called into question of the ownership of social media accounts, contacts and data when those accounts are used for business purposes.

The Court decided to issue an injunction against three former employees of a company, requiring them to give “exclusive access, management and control” of four LinkedIn groups.  This is an interim injunction while the case itself is heard at full trial, however, there is a clear message for employers.  The injunction was only made possible because it has been considered that the case has a very good chance of succeeding at trial.  In this particular case, the company will need to prove that the LinkedIn groups were created for the benefit and promotion of their business.

It does bring up some interesting questions, especially with regards to what happens with social media accounts that blur the lines between business and personal.  If an individual can reasonably show that they use an account to promote the business and themselves, and the employer has no clear guidelines in respect of social media usage, where does that leave the business that tries to claim ownership of the contacts made?

Social media policies need to cover not only use of social media accounts but ownership of data and what happens on termination of employment.  It’s generally safe to say that an employee will move on from a business at some point or another in the future, whether amicably or otherwise, and the employer does need to be clear, from the start, what will happen with the connections that person made during employment.  These connections are potentially very valuable to the business and can therefore be a significant risk if the employer does not make their position clear.

Wondering how clear your social media policy is?  Contact us for a free social media policy review.

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