By now most folks have heard of Twitter®. According to one definition found at Wikipedia, “Twitter” is considered a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on an individual’s profile page. The messages posted are delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers. The author can restrict delivery to those in his or her circle of friends or can allow open access. Users can send and receive tweets using:
While the service is free, using your cell phone can cause you to incur service provider fees. Twitter is not just being used by the younger generations. It is a phenomenon that has caught on with all age groups and is even being used by Corporate America to disseminate certain information.
Like all forms of communications, when using Twitter, individuals and companies should exercise caution and not just assume that all posts or use is without possible consequences. For example, using Twitter, as well as other social networking sites, can expose individuals and companies to issues of defamation, as well as intellectual property infringements. If individuals or employees post content to their own page or a corporate blog, that defames or invades the privacy of third parties, the entity responsible for the page may be legally responsible. Posts that include a third party’s intellectual property, such as copyrighted material or trademarks, may expose a company or individual to liability for infringement.
The case filed recently in San Francisco, Anthony LaRussa v. Twitter, Inc., illustrates the potential exposure in these areas. Tony LaRussa, the manager of the St Louis Cardinals, alleged in his lawsuit that the twitter.com/TonyLaRussa site contains unauthorized photographs of him and written statements that imply they were made by the popular manager when in fact they were not. Based on this, LaRussa contends that Twitter is liable for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, trademark dilution, cybersquatting, misappropriation of name, misappropriation of likeness, invasion of privacy, and intentional misrepresentation.
Another area of the law that may be affected by the use of Twitter is that of addressing conduct in the work place. Companies may take discipline against or terminate employees who spend excessive work time on sites such as Twitter, or who engage in conduct that is harassing, discriminatory or potentially violent on those sites. On the other hand, companies must be very careful and not infringe on its employees’ right to organize, their right to free speech, or their right to engage in political activities. Many companies routinely monitor their employees’ social networking sites for disparaging or inappropriate information. This type of oversight is not unlawful and may often serve to prevent greater harm from occurring.
As a practical matter, companies should have established (written) policies that discuss and set out clear guidelines for the use and access of these social networking sites. Those companies should then take steps to educate their employees about the possible pitfalls that may occur from use of these sites. Individuals should also be aware that whatever they post on the world-wide-web may actually get back to their employer, or to an unintended person. Just because you think you are posting something anonymously, does not mean it will stay anonymous. If you need additional information on this subject, contact Roman Shaul at 800-898-2304 or by email at Roman.Shaul@beasleyallen.com.
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