With more and more employees checking their personal websites at work—and possibly even on a work computer, it is imperative for them to realize that they are using corporate infrastructure, therefore completely blurring the lines regarding who has the rights to their online postings. Think about it—most employees sign some sort of employment contract which likely indicates that all intellectual property created during their employment belong to the company. By the same token, when employees work from their homes in the evening on their personal computers, it becomes even fuzzier. Due to our busy lifestyles, most of our Facebook or LinkedIn accounts likely have references to both work and home, personal and work-related. So, the question remains, who owns the content of your collective social media?
Who Cares About My Facebook Page?
Many professionals have career-related blogs which attract other companies, clients, etc. During that person’s tenure, who owns the content to those blogs? If the employee generates a source of revenue from the blogs, should that revenue then be given to the employer? If you launch a career blog during your employment with XYZ Law Firm, which discusses information specifically related to the firm, who, then, owns that information? You may be wondering—what the heck, my employer could care less what I post on Facebook. And you may be right to some extent. However, consider the Twitter account of Padmasree of Cisco, who created this account during her employment at Cisco. She frequently discusses both personal issues as well as content specific to Cisco, and her Twitter account has over 1,200,000 followers. It is clear that this is an asset to Cisco, and that should she leave, it would be a decided loss to Cisco, so, again, who owns the content?
Some attorneys feel that a clause claiming all “intellectual property” created during the term of employment covers tweets and blog posts as well as anything else creative the employee did on the side during his or her term of employment. If you are presented with a contract of this type, consider having the wording restrict the intellectual property to only that which was created within the scope of your job duties under the agreement. The theory behind this would be that if you are not being paid to create something—such as a Twitter feed or a blog posting—then the company shouldn’t own it simply because it was created during your term of employment. In other words, the ownership should only be tied to the type of job you were actually hired for.
Obviously there exists the question as to whether the job or industry you are in is of the type that your company would find it beneficial for your to be blogging during work hours or using work equipment. Many believe that people will find a way to blog, Tweet and use social networks, so they might as well give in to it and try to find the value in such activities, and relate them to their company’s benefit. Keep in mind that literally thousands of attorneys spend their days reviewing literally millions of company e-mails which have been subpoenaed for various lawsuits. Companies should always remind their employees that they have absolutely no right of privacy regarding anything that goes through a company computer. If all employees keep this fact in mind, and the employment contract is strictly spelled out regarding intellectual property, an employee’s blogging can actually benefit the company. Companies should also update their policies to reflect our changing world, which is full of social media, and even set up training for employees so they can fully understand what happens when the workplace and home collide.
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