Who owns the pope’s Twitter account?

and who owns your employees’ Twitter accounts?

One of the many questions raised by Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is who owns his Twitter account. Does the @pontifex Twitter account belong to the office or the man? Since it has been 600 years since any pope has resigned, resolving this issue is probably down on the list of things that the pope and the Vatican must address in the next several days, but it matters and it will have to be resolved.

You may need to address this issue in your business. When your employees use Twitter to market your company’s products or services, what is going to happen to the Twitter accounts that they use if they leave? Your employees may consider those accounts to be their property, particularly if they use their name as the Twitter handle on the account. You would claim, however, that the people following the account were following your company, regardless of what name was used as the Twitter handle for the account. After all, the Twitter handle associated with a particular account can always be changed.

There have been lawsuits over this. If your employees can take a Twitter account and the connection that it provides to all the people following it when they leave your company, you could lose all those customer and potential-customer contacts and the goodwill associated with them. That could be a serious blow to your business, especially if the employee went to work for a competitor.

If tweeting is part of your company’s marketing efforts and you don’t have written agreements and policies in place spelling out who owns those Twitter accounts, you should address this issue and get agreements and policies down in writing.

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