Followers, Friends And Connections – The Ownership Of Social Media Contacts

Author:Ms Elizabeth Ryan
Profession:Mason Hayes & Curran

Ownership of LinkedIn Contacts

Hays Specialist Recruitment (Holdings) Limited v Ions [2008] is the key UK decision dealing with the ownership of LinkedIn contacts in the employment context.

Mr. Ions worked as a recruiter with Hays before leaving and setting up a rival business. Hays suspected Mr. Ions of using confidential information concerning clients and contacts which he had copied from the Hays' client database to his personal LinkedIn account.

Hays inspected Mr. Ions' email account and found evidence that he had invited two of Hays' clients to join his network on LinkedIn but had suspicions that he had invited more. As a result Hays sought pre-trial disclosure from Mr. Ions.

In correspondence between Mr. Ions and Hays' solicitors, Hays demanded full details of Mr. Ions' Hays' linked contacts and warned Mr. Ions to preserve all evidence. Although Mr. Ions informed Hays that he had arranged for his LinkedIn account to be fully deleted and that he had not kept a copy of the contacts, the US operator of LinkedIn agreed to preserve all evidence, including the entirety of Mr. Ions' LinkedIn account, pending the outcome of the case.

Mr. Ions argued that Hays had consented to his use of LinkedIn and had in fact encouraged him to use it to connect with clients. Mr. Ions also argued that once an invitation on LinkedIn has been accepted by a contact, this information ceased to be confidential because it was then accessible by others on LinkedIn.

The Court did not accept this and noted that even if Hays had given Mr. Ions authority to use client email addresses to invite clients to connect with him, it was unlikely that this authority extended to the use of such information beyond his employment with Hays.

The Court ordered Mr. Ions to disclose the LinkedIn business contacts which he had acquired during his employment with Hays and all emails sent to, or received by, his LinkedIn account from Hays' computer network during his employment. Mr. Ions was also ordered to disclose all documents, including invoices and emails, evidencing his use of the LinkedIn contacts and any business obtained from them.

The recent US decision in Eagle v EdComm (12 March, 2013) highlighted the importance for both employers and employees of having a Social Media Policy in place that addresses the ownership of social media accounts and contacts made by an employee during his/her employment.

Dr. Eagle was a co-founder and former CEO of EdComm, Inc. During her employment...

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