Building a Twitter following under an employer’s umbrella has become a common business practice. But what happens to that Twitter account when an employee leaves the company – do they get to take their followers with them, or does the company retain them as social media assets? Oakland-based blogger Noah Kravitz joins us to discuss the potentially precedent-setting lawsuit that may decide this question.

Who Owns Your Tweets? 28 December,2011forum

Noah Kravitz, editor-at-large for and former employee
Eric Goldman, associate professor of law at Santa Clara University and director of the High Tech Law Institute
Tom McInerney, partner at Ogletree Deakins, a national labor and employment specialty law firm.

  • Slim

    Anybody here gone to It’s this really slow, badly laid-out website full of old news. I was reading an article, when I realized it was from September. Then it bizarrely showed me a slide-up urgent headline about the iPhone 5, which turned out to also be 3-month-old news — hardly urgent!

    • I think technobuffalo is a great website and has some really interesting articles on there, as well as their videos which are really good, especially the rumor roundup which is hosted by Noah Kravitz

    • DroidBricker

      It’s not a bad site at all and they have had some major contributions in terms of breaking news in the Android world.

  • If an employee sets up a Twitter account for a company like @pbs then later leaves the company or is let go, the company should retain the account. I would however offer some sort of small compensation to the ex-employee for bringing that company into the “new age” if it was reluctant to create the account to begin with. I would say a fair compensation would be around 10 cents a follower. 
    I see things like this happen all of the time. If the company had the employee setup the account at the company’s request, then no compensation should be necessary and the credentials should be handed over to the company when the employee leaves.

    Just my two cents.

    • francis_queen

      I agree with corndogcomputers!  In the name of equity. Although compensation ought have been discussed before the construction of the account and its maintenance. So its clear who is the owner and the employee is just that, there to set up and maintenance and should they leave for whatever reason, its left behind.

  • Chris Oinonen Ehren

    Don’t the followers get a vote in this? If the person you are following is a personality, an expert, somebody you respect or are interested in you may not be interested in staying with the mother company after the person you’re following has moved on, or even if you are, you may want the option to follow this person where they go next.  I’m not cattle, I do not get shuffled where you like, bundled as a commodity, sold for ten cents per.

  • Truemadness_2001

    The followers decided to follow the author of the twitter account, there is a relationship there, two-way, to decide what to do with those people ignores their own decision, ignores their choices. They don’t belong to anyone, they followed because they felt like it.

  • Margo Schafer

    The account is the intellectual property of the company if the employee was acting on behalf of the company. How is this precedent-setting? If a marketer sends out direct mail on behalf of a company, the company owns that piece. Why is Twitter different?

  • Christinevblum

    I create a new business twitter account for each job. I keep personal, personal and work accounts work accounts. Keeps everything clean.

  • Girlgeek

    I am continually acquiring ‘followers’ that turn out to be spam.  Their only tweets are of the nature, ‘come buy beautiful shoes at…’.  I would hate to be liable for $2.50/month for each of these that decided to follow me!

  • Scott from Hercules, CA

    PhoneDog’s claim of $340K damages is absurd.

    I am going to follow PhoneDog’s new Twitter account, with the expressed stipulation that I’m only doing so on a reference from Noah Kravitz. By PhoneDog’s reasoning, they will owe Noah $2.50 for every month that I follow them, and they have no way to stop me from following them.

    I’m pretty sure we could get their Twitter account 30k new followers by the end of the week that also explicitly state this stipulation. Noah will make back that $340K in no time…

    – Scott from Hercules

  • Chuck

    Given the facts presented, does anyone on the panel dispute that Noah has the right to close the account without his prior employer’s approval?  I think that tells us a great deal about who owns the account.  As to who “owns” the tweets he made by an employee, those probably are covered by the presumption created by the employee-for-hire doctrine under copyright law.

  • agahran

    This case has pretty interesting implications for the free speech rights of employees and contractors — in any field, but it’s especially intriguing that we’re talking about journalism here. Because, at least in the US, journalism is a profession inextricably rooted in the legal and ethical principle of free speech.

    I called in to this show today, because I wrote about this angle of this case yesterday for the Knight Digital Media Center. That’s currently the top story on Here’s a direct link to my post:

  • Pandorica

    I guess it would make a difference to me as to why/how the account was created.  Did ask him to create the account?  Did he create the account on his own, if so then why did he put in his handle.  There are ways that he could have kept this from happening but in the end I don’t see that he took anything.  It’s not like because they follow Noah they can’t also follow’s new feed.

  • Mox

    This reminds me of the issue of who owns the software that a programmer writes in his spare time.

    Some greedy douche-bag types would claim it belongs to the company, even if it has no connection with the company’s products.

    Many states make a point of protecting the worker from such creeps.

  • Twitter owns your tweets.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor