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Companies, former employees battle over LinkedIn accounts

Linda Eagle co-founded a company to provide training for financial services employees. Two years later, the company was purchased and Linda was named CEO. But six months afterward, she was fired.

Linda and the company then became embroiled in a lawsuit over – surprise! – Linda’s LinkedIn account.

Linda claims that the company accessed her account, changed her password, and replaced her profile with that of the company’s new CEO. She says that by doing so, the company prevented her LinkedIn connections from contacting her, and hijacked those connections for its own benefit. (Eventually she managed to get control of the account back.)

The company responded that its business policy had been to require its executives to have LinkedIn accounts. Not only that, but executives were required to use their work e-mail address in the accounts, use a template provided by the company for their work history and professional activities, use a description of the company that it had approved, provide a link to the company website, use a company template for replying to people through LinkedIn, and even use a photo on the account that was taken by a company photographer.

In short, both sides claimed that they owned the account and that the other was trying to “steal” the information in it.

A federal court in Philadelphia said that the company could sue Linda on the grounds that she misappropriated the account and engaged in unfair competition.

If your employees use social media for business purposes, you might want to consider stating in your social media policy that you own the account, not the employee – or otherwise specifying what will happen to the account if the employee leaves the company. A clear policy could go a long way toward preventing disputes like this one.

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