Who is the Legal Owner of a Company's Social Media Accounts?
Many social media platforms are set up in such a way that a business’s social media account may be linked to an employee’s personal account. But what happens when the employee that controls the account leaves the organization? Who is the owner of a company’s social media accounts?
The case of Bang Energy
Vital Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer and distributor of Bang Energy drinks, and John “Jack” Owoc, Vital’s former CEO, recently resolved a dispute in the Southern District of Florida Bankruptcy Court regarding ownership of three of the corporation’s social media accounts.
After Vital filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, its Board of Directors fired Owoc. Since then, Vital has attempted to sell the business, including its more than 50 social media accounts. Owoc used social media to promote Bang Energy and boost his online persona. Arguing he owned three of the Vital accounts, Owoc refused to give the login information for:
- A Twitter account with the handle @BangEnergyCEO; and
- Instagram and TikTok accounts with the handle @bangenergy.ceo
Owoc refused to give the login for these accounts because he argued he used the accounts to market Bang Energy and also as personal accounts. For example, Owoc posted several celebratory posts of anniversaries, holidays, and pictures of his child on the accounts listed above.
Still, about 75 percent of the 284 posts explicitly or implicitly promoted Bang products. Fifteen percent subtly marketed Bang products by highlighting Owoc’s persona in a way that aligned with the company’s marketing plans. Only 10 percent of the posts were personal in nature.
The court determined that Vital was the rightful owner of the accounts because most of the posts were used exclusively to market Bang products, and as a result, the court granted Vital summary judgment declaring that the company has the rights to the CEO accounts. Owoc was ordered to turn over the accounts to the company.
Ownership of social media accounts
In Michigan, laws prohibit employers from requesting passwords and usernames from an employee’s accounts. Although a case may be made such as the one above, the best practice is to proactively set ownership expectations from the beginning by drafting a social media policy that addresses this issue.
These policies should include guidance for creating and approving posts, how to interact with users, and more. Regularly updating policies to reflect changes in technology is important as well.
Help is available
The business attorneys at O’Reilly Rancilio are available to help business owners draft social media and all other policies. For information or to schedule an appointment, call 586-726-1000 or visit our website.