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Employees Score Win in War Over the Applicability of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in the Workplace

Seyfarth Shaw (01/05/12) Scott Schaefers

In the age of social media and networking, where employees use their company-issued computers to network with clients, suppliers, colleagues, and friends, a question has arisen over whether employers can claim an interest in their employees’ LinkedIn accounts, or other social networking accounts, which the employees use in part to grow and maintain their relationships for the benefit of their employers. In Eagle v. Morgan, No. 11-4303, 2011 WL 6739448, a federal court in Philadelphia held that an employer may claim ownership of its former executive’s LinkedIn connections where the employer required the executive to open and maintain an account, the executive advertised her and her employer’s credentials and services on the account, and where the employer had significant involvement in the creation, maintenance, operation, and monitoring of the account.

The court refused to dismiss the employer’s counterclaims for “misappropriation of an idea” and unfair competition against its former chief executive, who allegedly accessed and used her company-generated LinkedIn account three weeks after she was terminated. Employers and their lawyers should consider getting more involved in their employees’ social-networking activities, particularly to the extent that such activities are used for company business and where employees are required or expected to promote themselves on behalf of the company using these networking sites.