An interesting question regarding LinkedIn contact information arose recently in a High Court decision out of England. The matter involved whether email addresses stored in LinkedIn groups formed for the company’s benefit, which were maintained by employees, were the sole property of the company and not to be used or taken by employees upon leaving the company.
Three individuals, David Gamage, Susan Wright, and Steve Crawley, worked at Whitmar Publications Limited (“Whitmar”) until they quit in January 2013. Apparently, the defendants had set up a new company called Earth Island and had been competing with Whitmar before they quit their jobs at Whitmar.
Whitmar sued the individuals for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims. Whitmar asked the court for an injunction prohibiting the defendants from using or disclosing Whitmar’s confidential information the defendants had acquired during their employment with Whitmar. The court granted an injunction in favor of Whitmar.
Mr. Gamage, as a sales manager, had direct contact with Whitmar customers during his employment. Ms. Wright was Whitmar’s most senior employee and held the title of Managing Editor. Mr. Crawley was a production editor.
The case involved the subject of whether certain LinkedIn contacts were company property. The court noted that Ms. Wright, as part of her employment duties, dealt with the LinkedIn groups at Whitmar. The groups operated for Whitmar’s benefit and to promote Whitmar’s business. It was discovered that after leaving Whitmar, the defendants used Whitmar’s LinkedIn groups to compile email addresses for a large number of individuals. To these email addresses the defendants sent an invitation for an event that was held to promote the defendants’ newly-formed company, Earth Island.
Whitmar also argued that Ms. Wright refused to provide Whitmar with the LinkedIn username and password for four LinkedIn groups managed by Ms. Wright during her employment with Whitmar. Ms. Wright claimed that the groups were her personal groups and not the property of Whitmar.
While the group granted the Plaintiff’s requested injunction pending trial, the court was vague as to whether the LinkedIn contacts belonged to solely the employee or employer. Client contact information is often an important company asset that deserves protection. As a result, businesses should make sure to maintain unrestricted administrative access and password information to social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to prevent the cutting off of access by employees. Companies would be smart to also identify through employment agreements and policies who owns specific information relating to social media.
Click here for the opinion.