Who Owns a Twitter Account? Are Bloggers Journalists? What about CAN-SPAM?

Well, it’s 2012, but social media is still around and as you are trying to figure out how Timeline works on Facebook these are some of the interesting social media and the law stories that have cropped up:

Item #1: Who Owns a Twitter account?

A former employee is being sued by his South-Carolina based company. For? Taking their twitter account. Noah Kravitz of Oakland, CA is being sued by PhoneDog, a mobile phone news site company for multiple claims pertaining to his act of switching a Twitter account used by him for the company. This account had amassed a following of 17,000 followers, and PhoneDog is seeking damages of $2.50 per follower over eight months for a total of $340,000.

Based on the couple of articles I read on this story the only thing clear is that the terms agreement surrounding the account were unclear. As more and more companies continue to see social media as a valuable tool and resource and are actually having workers use them the reality is that we will see more lawsuits arise. I think the valuable lesson here is to have a social media policy, a worker agreement for social media marketers, and transfer procedures in cases of ending events, like termination. Without agreements in place you will be left at the mercy of a court.

You can read more about the situation in this New York Times article.

Item #2: Bloggers are NOT Journalists.

BLOGGERS PAY ATTENTION! You may think you dig up the facts, do solid research, and ask serious questions, but you may have to face the fact that courts may not see your as a journalist. Why is that important? In many states there are media shield laws. For example, Oregon has such a law.

Blogger Crystal Cox sought to defend herself from investment firm Obsidian Finance Group against a $10 million lawsuit for defamation. The blogger lost the case even though she argued that she was an “investigative blogger.” The judge disagreed because she was not employed by some official media entity, and therefore she could not take advantage of Oregon’s media shield law. She lost and the judgment against her was for $2.5 million.

I am not sure if this had any effect, but just from casual observation and what I am told from litigators and trial attorneys is that pro se (representing yourself) litigants often lose, and often lose badly.  So that may have been a factor. However, what is clear is that just blogging and acting like a journalist is not enough. For more info read this article from Seattle Weekly.

Item #3: Optimal Social Media Marketing Plans Can Help you Comply with CAN-SPAM Act

I ran across this post, “How to Make Optimum Use of Social Media Platforms for Marketing Your Business” while flipping through my Zite app on my IPad. If you are a small business like me and are trying to get a handle on this thing called social media you know it isn’t always easy making a connection via Twitter, Facebook, or even your blog. So I really appreciated the tips it gave in this short post.

However, when the biggest things that help me to help you (via this article) is that last section, “Automation doesn’t turn out to be Helpful Always” – why? Well, I did a Law Lunch with The Greenhouse Innovation Hub back in December where I talked about complying with the CAN-SPAM Act.  It seems that good marketing mirrors what CAN-SPAM Act is trying to curb namely:

Whenever you are searching for consumers, you need to strike real conversations and do not spam their inbox with auto-generated mails.  This can even turn a potential customer away from you.  It is necessary that you engage in regular conversations with qualified leads.

So do yourself a favor and stop relying on spam and do real conversations and follow-ups. In addition, make sure you are complying with the other requirements of CAN-SPAM Act (because it does not apply just to bulk e-mails) when sending that personal touch e-mail.

Have a great first work week of 2012! Lookout for Draw the Law next week. If you can't wait to see my doodles “Subscribe” today!

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.