Court to decide ownership, value of journalist’s Twitter account

The New York TimesTechnology & Marketing Law Blog | News Leadership 3.0 | Scribd
When a journalist leaves a news organization, who owns the Twitter account and followers he accumulated while working there? John Biggs examines that question in a New York Times story based on a lawsuit first reported in November by Eric Goldman. In the suit, technology blog PhoneDog alleges former staffer Noah Kravitz should have left his @PhoneDog_Noah Twitter account and its 17,000 followers with the company. Instead, Kravitz renamed the account to @noahkravitz and now has about 23,000 followers. The filing seeks $340,000 in damages — $2.50 per follower, per month.

Amy Gahran adds a smart take on this:

For many journalists, establishing their own social media presence, blog, or other digital media presence is an important professional asset that is tied to their individual identity. It’s as much a part of the professional value they bring to the table as their education, experience, and network of sources and contacts. … It’s probably not easily transferable to the news organization if the journalist and the news org part ways.

I discussed this issue in earlier post about a similar controversy when a BBC reporter took her 60,000 Twitter followers to competitor ITV:

Social media account ownership is complicated by many factors — who created the account, was it prior to employment, does the name include the media brand, was the account use primarily professional or personal? There’s rarely a clear answer unless a news organization and staffer get an agreement in writing, in advance, on what will happen to a specific account when a journalist moves on, which may be something your organization should do.

Related: PhoneDog’s former community manager said the expectation was that editors’ Twitter accounts “were their own.” (Twitter) || Earlier: Ex-CNN anchor Sanchez keeps his Twitter account, changes the name (Poynter.org) | Scripps tells employees to create separate “professional accounts” that “remain company property” if they leave (Poynter.org)

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for noting my KDMC post, Jeff. 

    As I noted there, another key issue this raises is whether journalists (people who work in a profession that is firmly rooted in the legal and ethical principle of free speech) are entitled to free speech rights. If their employer (i.e., a news org) gets to control any of their public speech that they do as individuals, rather than employees, then it would look like journos do not in fact enjoy free speech rights. Personally, I think that’s a big problem — and a rather glaring ethical hypocrisy. I would hope the ethicists at Poynter would consider that point. I raised it there a couple of years ago, when I wrote for Poynter, but they didn’t see it that way. Of course, smart people can always disagree :-)