How much is that PhoneDoggie in Your Windows?

| Marcus, Ellen

"How much is that Twitter in Your Windows?"

In my last post, I made the case that new social media haven’t changed the issues that come up in legal disputes between companies and high-ranking employees.  But social media can add some new twists.  For instance, are a company’s Twitter followers the equivalent of a confidential client list, such that you would be “misappropriating” a company “trade secret” if you left and took the list with you? 

This question is presented by the recent case between Noah Kravitz and his former employer PhoneDog, which centers on 17,000 Twitter followers that Mr. Kravitz developed when he worked as a product reviewer for PhoneDog. 

Mr. Kravitz says that the Twitter account and followers are his.  PhoneDog says that they are the company’s, and that the password needed to access the Twitter account is a confidential trade secret that was misappropriated by Mr. Kravitz in violation of California trade secrets law 

Most states have adopted some version of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which creates a cause of action for misappropriation of trade secrets.  The Act defines a trade secret as “information . . . that . . . [d]erives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to . . . other persons . . . and [i]s the subject of efforts . . . to maintain its secrecy.”  Confidential customer lists – the kind that used to be kept in Rolodexes and which are prized for their value in generating business – have been found by courts to be trade secrets, provided that the information cannot be readily ascertained from a public source.

PhoneDog does not contend that the “list” of 17,000 followers is a confidential trade secret, but that the password that is needed to access the list and communicate with the followers is.   That’s definitely a modern twist to an old legal question.  Given all the tweeting going on these days, we can look forward to more.