Can a LinkedIn Account Be Stolen (or Converted)?

Earlier I discussed the three claims on which plaintiff prevailed at trial (albeit with no damages) against her former employer, Edcomm.  For symmetry’s sake, I now summarize the five state law claims which defendant won. 

These claims are (1) identity theft, (2) conversion, (3) tortious interference with contract, (4) civil conspiracy, and (5) civil aiding and abetting.  In analyzing these claims, the Pa. district court assessed some creative attempts to adapt and expand common law tort rules to a modern-day computerized context. 

(1) Claim and Factual Basis: Identity Theft.  Edcomm used plaintiff’s “identifying information” (see 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. s. 4120(a)) without plaintiff’s permission when it hijacked her LinkedIn account and replaced plaintiff’s credentials with those of plaintiff’s successor (can you say “salt in the wound”?).

Ruling and Reasoning: Identity theft claim fails.  Plaintiff’s name was publicly available and never possessed by Edcomm.   Also, Edcomm inadvertently left plaintiff’s “honors and awards” on Morgan’s LinkedIn page. 

Plaintiff’s honors and awards are not sufficient identifying information such that someone who viewed Morgan’s page would think he was actually viewing plaintiff’s page.  In addition, because Edcomm didn’t purposefully leave plaintiff’s honors and awards on plaintiff’s former LinkedIn page, plaintiff couldn’t show that Edcomm used plaintiff’s information for an improper purpose.  * 9.

(2) Claim and Factual Basis: Conversion.  Edcomm effectively stole or “converted” plaintiff’s LinkedIn account – which is plaintiff’s property or chattel.

 Ruling and Reasoning: Conversion claim fails because a LinkedIn account is not the type of “tangible property” (touchable, feelable, palpable, e.g.) contemplated by a conversion suit. 

Software, domain names and satellite signals are intangible property not subject to conversion under Pennsylvania law.  A LinkedIn account is “an intangible right to access a specific page on a computer”; it is not palpable property that can be converted.  *9-10.

(3) Claim and Factual Basis: Tortious interference with contract.  Edcomm tortiously interfered with plaintiff’s contract with LinkedIn when Edcomm blocked plaintiff’s access from the page.

Ruling and Reasoning.  The claim fails.  Plaintiff definitely has a contract right in her LinkedIn account by virtue of the User Agreement and Edcomm definitely interfered with that contractual relationship. 

However, plaintiff regained control of her account within a month of being fired and she could not prove measurable monetary loss.  No damages = no tortious interference under Pa. law.

(4) Claim and Factual Basis: Civil Conspiracy.  Edcomm and individual employee defendants conspired to misappropriate and damage plaintiff’s LinkedIn account.

Ruling and Reasoning: Plaintiff fails to prove a civil conspiracy.  A corporate defendant and employees or agents of that corporation cannot conspire with each other under the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine.  

Plaintiff didn’t show malice (a required conspiracy element under Pa. law): that defendants’ sole purpose was to injure plaintiff (as opposed to keeping what Edcomm believed to be company property).     *11.

(5) Claim and Factual Basis: Civil Aiding and Abetting. The individual Edcomm agents aided and abetted in Edcomm’s misappropriation of plaintiff’s identity.

Ruling and Reasoning: Judgment for defendant.  While plaintiff proved an actionable wrong: misappropriation of publicity, invasion of privacy and unauthorized use of name, plaintiff failed to show individual defendants’ “substantial assistance” in the wrongful conduct.  Since plaintiff did not provide the court with sufficient evidence of each individual’s actions, plaintiff’s civil aiding and abetting claim failed.

Parting Shots:

– Pirating a social media account is not conversion; since the account is an intangible right to access a computer page rather than tangible property;

– A civil conspiracy claim requires concerted activity by at least two or more persons, and that a corporation cannot, by definition, conspire with its own agents.

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PaulP

Litigation attorney at Fisher Kanaris, P.C. representing businesses and individuals in all types of commercial disputes.

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