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Five Ways Twitter Is Changing Media Law

29 January 2012

From Paid Content:

Why does Twitter get involved in so many interesting lawsuits? In its short life, the company has kicked up legal hornet nests involving everything from stalking to satire.

While technology companies always outgrow the laws that govern them, Twitter’s 140-character message system is proving to be particularly disruptive. At the same time, the microblog has been more aggressive in defending free speech than established companies like Facebook and Google.

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The Phone Dog Case: Twitter and Company Property

Last year, a blog called Phone Dog sued one of its former journalists, Noah Kravitz, who took his 17,000+ Twitter followers with him when he walked out the door. Phone Dog says the journalist obtained the followers only because he worked there. It added the followers were a company trade secret worth $2.50 a piece.

The court case is caught up in procedural snarls but has in the meantime gone viral as a social media parable. For now, the law is unclear about who should get the Twitter spoils in a digital divorce between a company and its employees.

The Phone Dog case will surely lead other companies to amend their employment contracts. As for the parties, Kravitz is enjoying his day in the sun and Phone Dog, which tell its side of the storyhere, appears to be doing just fine without him.

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The Tony La Russa Case: Twitter and Trademark

In 2009, the St. Louis Cardinals manager sued Twitter after a fake Tony La Russa account spat out tasteless tweets about dead pitchers and his DUI arrest.

The baseball manager, likely realizing he would strike out, quietly ended the case soon after. But the La Russa case became the first in a series of cases in which brand owners have tried to use trademark law to shut up Twitter users.

“Life settlement” agency Coventry First, for instance, sued to grab a Twitter account that was sending satiric messages about its ghoulish life insurance policies. Other big companies like BP appear to have decided its better to quietly tolerate fake accounts like @BPGlobalPr which continues to emit hilarious comments on BP’s efforts in the gulf (sample tweet: “Please, write your representatives and tell them you’ve forgotten about the Gulf of Mexico.”)

These type of trademark claims have since led Twitter to develop new ways to protect parody, in particular with its check mark system to authenticate famous people (but the system is not perfect as the wife of news baron Rupert Murdoch can attest).

Link to the rest at Paid Content

Legal Stuff, Social Media

One Comments to “Five Ways Twitter Is Changing Media Law”

  1. Ah, a world where corporations are people, and people (in the form of followers in this case) are property. Yay! progress.

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