Failed Strategy: Using Trade Secret Laws to Assert Ownership of Employees' Social Media Accounts in the Journalism Industry

29 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2019 Last revised: 30 Jan 2020

See all articles by Anthony Adornato

Anthony Adornato

Ithaca College

Andrew Horsfall

Syracuse University - College of Law

Date Written: 2019

Abstract

It’s the policy of an increasing number of news outlets to retain ownership of the professional social media accounts of their reporters. In the first case of its kind in the United States, one media company took a former employee to court over the question of ownership. The Roanoke Times in Virginia filed a suit in 2018 against a former sports reporter, alleging a breach of its social media policy. The reporter, who left his position at The Times for a competing news outlet, took with him the Twitter account he had used as part of his work with the outlet. This article explores a host of uncharted legal implications pertinent to this case and argues that utilizing trade secret laws to assert ownership of an employee’s account(s), a strategy used in The Times case and several other lawsuits, is an ill-fitted approach. Social media accounts and their associated followers are not “secret,” no matter the industry. A comprehensive policy could prevent legal action in the first place by providing employees with guidelines that address a myriad of issues discussed in this paper. The authors offer provisions of a policy that would protect news outlets while also acknowledging the importance of social media accounts to the livelihood of journalists and to the free flow of information from journalists to the public.

Keywords: trade secrets, social media ownership, employee social media, journalism law, BH Media v. Bitter, intellectual property, social media policies, terms of service, journalism

Suggested Citation

Adornato, Anthony and Horsfall, Andrew, Failed Strategy: Using Trade Secret Laws to Assert Ownership of Employees' Social Media Accounts in the Journalism Industry (2019). NYU Journal of Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law, Volume 9 Issue 1, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3425250 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3425250

Anthony Adornato (Contact Author)

Ithaca College ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14850
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.anthonyadornato.com

Andrew Horsfall

Syracuse University - College of Law ( email )

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
181
Abstract Views
800
Rank
250,010
PlumX Metrics