Companies often use Facebook Fan pages to promote their brand to interested consumers, and to build a community of dedicated fans. A company’s official Facebook Fan page is often moderated by an employee, or a team of employees. Additionally, Facebook also allows unofficial Facebook Fan pages that are created and run by individuals who are unconnected to the company being honored. Recently, a United States District Court in Florida addressed a lawsuit between employee and employer that involved over 6 million Facebook “Likes.”
Stacey Mattocks was a fan of the television show “The Game,” which focused on a fictional professional football team. In 2008, Ms. Mattocks created an unofficial Facebook Fan page for “The Game,” televised by Black Entertainment Television, LLC. (BET). According to the Court: “Due to Facebook’s policies, Mattocks could not, and did not, post any BET-owned or third-party-owned content from the Series. Nor could Mattocks hold her FB Page out to the public as the ‘official’ Series Fan Page sponsored or operated by BET.” Around October 2010, BET contacted Mattocks regarding her Fan Page, then in January 2011, BET hired Mattocks as a part-time employee to manage the Fan Page.
After Mattocks became an employee, BET also encouraged its viewers to “like” the Fan Page. Additionally, BET allowed/directed Mattocks to include its trademarks and logos at the top of the Fan Page. The company directed Mattocks to post exclusive content, including videos and photos, to the Fan Page. While Mattocks posted most of the content, other BET employees occasionally posted material as well.
The Court also found that “…Mattocks helped BET protect its intellectual property by notifying the company when she discovered third parties streaming episodes of the Series without permission.” During her employment with BET, the number of “Likes” on the Fan Page increased from approximately two million to over six million.
As the Court further explained, in February 2011, BET and Mattocks entered into a Letter Agreement, and BET agreed not to exclude Mattocks from the Fan Page by changing her administrative rights. In exchange, Mattocks granted BET administrative access to the Fan Page and agreed that BET could “update the content on the Page from time to time as determined by BET in its sole discretion.”
After signing the Letter Agreement, Mattocks and BET began to discuss full-time employment for Mattocks. During the negotiations, Mattocks restricted BET’s access to the Fan Page, and thus, BET was no longer able to post content on the Fan Page.
Consequently, on August 27, 2012, BET asked Facebook to “migrate” fans of the Fan Page to another official page created by BET. Eventually, Facebook granted BET’s request and migrated the “Likes” on the Fan Page over to a new BET-sponsored page. Facebook also shut down Mattocks’s Fan Page. Similarly, BET asked Twitter to disable Mattocks’s account, and Twitter granted BET’s request.
Mattocks sued BET in federal court in Florida. She claimed that BET breached the Letter Agreement, that BET tortiously interfered with her contractual relationships with Facebook and Twitter, and that BET was liable for “conversion” of the business interest she had in her Fan Page. Mattocks alleged that “she lost potential income from other companies that pay her for redirecting users from several websites she maintains, including the FB Page.”
Ultimately, the court dismissed all of Mattocks’s claims. The court determined that BET was protecting its intellectual property and brand rights. It also found that Mattocks had breached the Letter Agreement by preventing BET from accessing the Fan Page, which caused BET to take action by contacting Facebook and Twitter.
Who Owns a Page’s “Likes”?
For the “conversion” claim, the Court noted Mattocks was required to prove that she had ownership of the property allegedly “converted” by BET. As a result, Mattocks was required to first demonstrate that she “owned” the “Likes” on the fan page. She failed to do so. The Court reasoned that Mattocks did not own a property interest in the “Likes.”
Instead, the Court determined that the individual users who clicked on the “Like” button, created the “Likes,” and thus, owned them. As the Court reasoned, this is supported further by the fact that the user could easily undo a “Like” by a mere click of the “Unlike” button. Consequently, the Court found that BET had the right to have Facebook transfer the “Likes” to the new official fan page.
Here is the full text of the Court’s opinion in Mattocks v. Black Entertainment Television, LLC.
What Does This Case Mean?
First, this case demonstrates that the Court system is slowly, but surely, catching up with technology. The nuances of various social media platforms and the ownership of content on those platforms are being litigated, and thus, courts are rendering decisions that will help put a legal framework on many social media issues.
Second, this case highlights the importance of having well-written contracts/agreements regarding social media access and ownership.
Third, employers should also be careful to have more than a single employee with possession of the login credentials to work-related social media accounts. And, such a requirement should be contained in the written agreement. Employers should also think strategically about who has administrative rights/access to company social media accounts.
Companies would be wise to consider working with a social media strategist to analyze these non-legal issues, and to have the social media strategist train its employees to use various social media platforms as effectively as possible.
What do you think? Does anyone “own” a “Like,” and if so, do you think the Court identified the correct owner? Will this case change the way your company handles Fan Pages and/or other social media activities?
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