David Bell in Bloomberg BNA Social Media Law and Policy Report: Group Files Lawsuit Over Ownership of Twitter Account With 175,000 Followers

09/22/2014


An Occupy Wall Street corporation is the rightful owner of the @OccupyWallStNYC Twitter account and its more than 175,000 followers, and an activist should be fined $500,000 for “hijacking” it, a complaint filed Sept. 17 alleged (OWS Media Group, Inc. v. Wedes, N.Y. Sup. Ct., No. 159126/2014, complaint filed, 9/17/14).

David A. Bell, a partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP in Dallas, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 19 that the case had the potential to provide helpful guidance on the issue of Twitter account ownership, an area with many open questions because other cases have “settled rather quickly.” One example is PhoneDog v. Kravitz, No. 3:11-cv-03474-MEJ (N.D. Cal. settlement announced Dec. 3, 2012) (see related article), a dispute over whether a company or its former employee owned a Twitter account and its 17,000 followers. The settlement in the case provided the former employee with the Twitter account.

According to the complaint in this case, AdBusters Media Foundation, a Canadian non-profit, created the @OccupyWallStNYC Twitter account during the summer of 2011 in preparation for a Sept. 17, 2011, protest on Wall Street. The complaint said AdBusters transferred ownership of the Twitter account to Marisa Holmes on Sept. 15, 2011...

Bell said he wasn't sure why OWS Media's complaint didn't plead trademark infringement against Wedes. He said, however, that it may have been seen as a weak claim in light of the fact that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused an “Occupy Wall Street” application “on multiple grounds, including that the phrase does not act as a source identifier but, rather, as the name of a movement (which should not be owned by any single owner).”

Excerpted from Bloomberg BNA Social Media Law and Policy Report, September 23, 2014. To view full article, click here (subscription required).

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