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Keep Your Friends Close: A Framework for Addressing Rights to Social Media Contacts

Posted by on Friday, October 17, 2014 in Notes, Volume 67, Volume 67, Number 5.

Keep Your Friends Close: A Framework for Addressing Rights to Social Media Contacts


The proliferation of social media poses numerous new challenges that require the law to find creative solutions. One pressing legal question is who has the superior right to social media contacts as between an employee who manages a company’s social media accounts and the company on whose behalf the employee acts. The very nature of social media accounts, and the different ways that businesses and their employees use them, blurs their users’ personal and professional identities so that employees and the employers frequently maintain concurrent, and often competing, interests in access to an account’s followers. This Note first considers the way intellectual property regimes have responded in the past to technological innovation that places pressure on employment relationships. Though trade secrets law’s flexibility initially appears to offer an appropriately fact-specific method to answer this question, it ultimately proves inadequate to address the unique problems that social media poses. Copyright and patent law have each dealt with tensions in the employment context similar to those that social media creates. After examining them, this Note proposes importing patent law’s shop right and hired to invent doctrine into the social media context and discusses how it would apply in various employment scenarios.


Doctor of Jurisprudence, May 2015, Vanderbilt University Law School; B.A., 2010, Barnard College. I am very grateful to the editors and staff of the Vanderbilt Law Review for their insightful comments, careful editing, and friendship.