Lawsuit – Are Twitter Followers a Protectable Customer List?

26 December 2011 Internet, IT & e-Discovery Blog Blog
Authors: Peter Vogel

Phonedog.com sued a former employee for theft of their customer list when his 17,000 Twitter followers went to his new Twitter name after he quit. The New York Times reported that Noah Kravitz was a writer for Phonedog.com which "is a highly interactive mobile news and reviews resource that attracts a community of more than 2.5 million unique visitors each month." Until Kravitz quit in October 2010 he had 17,000 Twitter followers for his Twitter name Phonedog_Noah, and when he left Phonedog agreed to let Kravitz keep the Twitter name in exchange for his agreement that he would post Tweets for Phonedog from time to time.

Kravitz change his Twitter name to NoahKravitz and the 17,000 followers went with him. 8 months later Phonedog.com sued Kravitz “saying the Twitter list was a customer list, and seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000.”

How can Phonedog.com claim that followers of Twitter is a customer list which can be protected under trade secret laws? In order to be a trade secret in the US a company must be able to prove that the secret gives a company a particular business advantage and the owner has properly protected the trade secret.

Here Phonedog.com is asserting that Twitter followers are customer list (a trade secret), however the details about Twitter followers identity are stored on Twitter. Twitter’s Terms of Service do not obligate Twitter to keep any information secret. As a matter of fact, if you search the Twitter Terms of Service the word “secret” is nowhere to be found.

This will be an interesting case to watch, but since 95% of all lawsuits settle without trial it is most likely the parties will settle the dispute and the Courts will not rule on this novel trade secret claim.

How could the facts in this lawsuit affect you and your Social Media activity?
 

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