Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 5, 2012

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In 2011, a lawsuit that stirred up some online controversy was filed against a former employee of a South Carolina Internet company with claims that the employee stole 17,000 Twitter followers from the company and thus, owed payment. The legal dispute was recently settled, but details have not yet been disclosed. 

The suit raised some eyebrows and brought on a national discussion about the possible monetary value of Twitter followers. PhoneDog, a business that reviews mobile devices, is the first company to bring such a legal action in claiming that after quitting his job, instead of relinquishing his company account, Noah Kravitz changed his Twitter handle from @PhoneDog_Noah to @NoahKravitz and kept the thousands of followers that came with it. 

According to news reports, the company sued Kravitz on grounds that these followers essentially comprised a company customer list. Under law, a list of customers for any business is protected property and when employees leave, they are prohibited from taking them. The lawsuit asked Kravitz to pay $2.50 per follower, per month for eight months, which amounts to $340,000.

The controversy thickens with reports that PhoneDog did not object to Kravitz use of the account until he sued the company for unpaid wages. Kravitz claimed in the lawsuit that when he left PhoneDog, they had no objections to his continued use of the Twitter account. This information may have been key in the recent settlement resulting in Kravitz keeping his handle and his followers.

The case may not have settled the question of whether Twitter followers have a price tage, but it has generated buzz around employee-employer social networking business contracts. It would not be surprising to see more businesses with a substantial social Internet presence sharpen up their employee agreements over which accounts officially belong to who. As business law is shaped to fit the digital age, employers and employees will have to draw a line between professional and personal social networking in order to avoid another PhoneDog vs. Kravitz ordeal. 

The following news clip was published in January 2012, before a settlement was reached, and offers insight into matters of the controversial Twitter lawsuit: