By Bill Wright
After almost two years, the trial over a LinkedIn account is over. Eagle v. Morgan, No. 11-4303 (E.D. Pa. March 12, 2013). Dr. Eagle founded Edcomm, a banking education company. Edcomm encouraged its employees to create LinkedIn accounts for company marketing purposes. Dr. Eagle created an individual LinkedIn account and used it for business purposes. Some time after another entity purchased Edcomm, the company discharged Dr. Eagle, changed her LinkedIn password, and altered the account to show the picture and personal information of the new CEO. For a couple of weeks thereafter, until LinkedIn intervened and recovered the account for Dr. Eagle, if you had searched on LinkedIn for Dr. Eagle, you would have found the picture of the new CEO. Moreover, the company failed to delete some of Dr. Eagle’s honors and awards, so you would have seen the new CEO’s name and picture and Dr. Eagle’s honors and awards.
Both sides sued on various legal theories. Dr. Eagle claimed the company had invaded her privacy and used her name and publicity. The company claimed Dr. Eagle misappropriated company property – the LinkedIn account. After a trial, the court decided that, at least in this case, where the company had no formal policy about social media and did not pay for the LinkedIn account and where the account was Dr. Eagle’s individual account, Dr. Eagle did nothing wrong. The company did invade Dr. Eagle’s privacy by making unauthorized use of her name, but Dr. Eagle was unable to demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that she would have made any money from her LinkedIn account during the few relevant weeks. Dr. Eagle proved some of her claims, but received no damages.
In the end, neither side won anything and the decision itself has few lessons for the rest of us. We can tell this much – social media may be (or at least was yesterday) the new frontier of marketing, but we are linked and friended to the same old legal principles.