In Eagle v. Morgan, 11-4303 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2013), an employee sued her employer for seizing the employee’s LinkedIn account and blocked her from it for several weeks.
After trial, the court ruled in Plaintiff’s favor on the following three state law claims:
(1) Claim: Statutory unauthorized use of name
Ruling and Reason: Plaintiff’s claim sustained. Plaintiff’s name has commercial value based on her investment of time and effort developing her reputation in the banking industry. Defendant (Edcomm) used plaintiff’s name without her consent for commercial purposes in that someone looking on-line for plaintiff, would instead be redirected to an Edcomm agent. *6.
2) Claim: Invasion of privacy
Ruling and reason: Judgment for plaintiff. Plaintiff has privacy interest in her name, picture and resume and plaintiff’s name in banking industry has “prestige and commercial value”. Edcomm appropriated plaintiff’s reputation, prestige and commercial standing for its own use by allowing plaintiff’s name to remain on LinkedIn URL. *7-8.
3) Claim: Misappropriation of Publicity
Ruling and reason: Judgment for plaintiff. Plaintiff has exclusive property right in her identity and sole right to control the commercial value of her name and the companion right to prevent others from exploiting it without her permission. Edcomm exploited plaintiff’s name and commercial value associated with her name by locking plaintiff out of her LinkedIn account and replacing plaintiff’s credentials with those of her successor. *8.
Plaintiff offered no specific, tangible damages evidence. Her lost profits and lost business opportunities claims were purely speculative and she failed to point to a single contract, client, prospect or transaction that didn’t materialize as a result of Edcomm’s conduct. *13-16.
(1) Misappropriation – Edcomm claimed plaintiff misappropriated Edcomm’s LinkedIn account as her own when plaintiff retook control of her LinkedIn account after about 17 days post-firing. Edcomm claimed that it had the initial idea to use LinkedIn as a business marketing tool and that it retained the rights to the account after plaintiff was fired.
The Court disagreed and said that the LinkedIn user agreement was clearly between the individual user (plaintiff) and LinkedIn. The Court also noted that Edcomm didn’t have a written LinkedIn policy in which it dictated its employee’s LinkedIn use. *16.
(2) Unfair Competition – Edcomm asserted that plaintiff improperly recaptured her LinkedIn account to compete unfairly with Edcomm for business and clients. The court summarily rejected this by saying that Edcomm failed to show that plaintiff misappropriated her LinkedIn account and therefore could not show “passing off” or “likelihood of confusion” – the twin hallmarks of a common law unfair competition claim. *16.
– Where a plaintiff can show she has invested time and energy into furthering her reputation in an industry, the plaintiff’s identity or “brand” will have commercial value and that value will be protectable;
– So who owns a LinkedIn account? If the employer sponsors the account and has a clearly defined policy concerning ownership and use of the account, an argument can be made that once an employee is terminated, that account devolves to the employer.
– Where a plaintiff can’t pinpoint any specific lost business opportunities, damages will be too speculative and she will get nothing.