Who owns your LinkedIn connections?
The answer to this is relatively straightforward for personal accounts which make no reference to employers, and corporate accounts which make no reference to employees. Unfortunately a resounding question mark still hovers above those connections collated in LinkedIn accounts that represent both the employee and the employer.
Employers are under increasing pressure to strike a balance between encouraging employees to boost networking through social media, whilst maintaining confidentiality. General contact information available from the public domain has been found not to constitute confidential information, however in a 2007 case (PennWell Publishing v Ornstein) direct dial telephone numbers and email addresses were classed as confidential (and as such should be protected) – an employee’s contact data and information stored on their employer’s system was found to be owned by the employer.
On LinkedIn, contact data and connections are stored and hosted by the LinkedIn servers, so who owns the connections?
In a 2008 case (Hays v Ions) an ex-employee of recruitment firm Hays, was ordered to disclose his LinkedIn business contacts and all emails sent or received by his LinkedIn account from the Hays’ network after he set up a competing business. This case marked the first pre-action disclosure of information held on a networking site prior to legal proceedings taking place.
The judgment has been received with mixed feelings. Some argue that new contacts generated in the course of employment should form part of the company’s intellectual property or at the very least confidential information which should be protected. Whilst others argue that ownership of LinkedIn accounts and their content (which individuals build up and should be able to use moving forwards) should remain with and be under the individuals’ control.
It seems there is no definite answer and until one is reached we strongly recommend that companies put in place effective Social Media Policies to: police employees’ social media activities; set out employees’ obligations to the company; detail employers’ rights to access social media accounts; and hopefully avoid disputes over, amongst other things, ownership issues.
If you would like advice or assistance in relation to your Social Media Policy, or would like more information on any of the above, please contact Erica Dennett on +44 (0)1732 224 026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.