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微博粉丝属于员工还是公司?

Anne Fisher 2012年01月09日

眼下,整个博客圈正为一桩悬而未决的官司吵得不可开交。这件案子引出了一个问题:你打理的微博什么情况下会突然变成公司的资产?

    整个事情的起因平淡无奇。有个叫诺亚•克拉维茨的人2006年加盟了移动设备和应用评测网站PhoneDog,然后使用工作Twitter账户发微博。由于克拉维茨对新产品和行业走势的视角往往非常独特,不久他就拥有了大量粉丝。

    这其实没什么特别的。据纽约普士高法律事务所(Proskauer)公布的一份调查显示,大多数公司(76%)现在至少聘用了一名甚至好几名能玩转社交媒体的高手,帮助他们在网络上做市场。其实当克拉维茨加盟PhoneDog的时候,他已经是硅谷的一位颇有名气的科技评论者,影响力不可小觑。这件事情看起来很普通,会有什么不对劲的吗?很显然,后来的事实证明,问题可不少。

    2010年末,克拉维茨离开PhoneDog跳槽到另一家公司(他现在是科技新闻与评论网站TechnoBuffalo的高级编辑)。他只是稍事改了一下Twitter的用户名,就带走了PhoneDog的17,000名粉丝。因此去年7月PhoneDog一纸诉状将克拉维茨告上了联邦法庭,声称克拉维茨带走的这些粉丝实际上相当于是PhoneDog的客户名单,也是PhoneDog的公司资产。公司希望克拉维茨为此赔付34万美元,也就是每名粉丝每个月2.5美元,一共赔付18个月。PhoneDog起诉克拉维茨一案的听证会将于1月26日在旧金山举行。

    眼下,情形变得越来越奇怪了。一般来说双方当事人在法官表态之前不会对案件进行评论,但这桩案子不是。围绕着这个案子(除了上述案情外,克拉维茨声称PhoneDog公司还欠他一笔合伙人报酬未付,此外还有一些说不清道不明的问题),双方当事人和许多自以为是的观察人士们在网络上打起了口水仗,阵地从科技博客一直延伸到律师事务所的网站上。

    这些人吵得不可开交是有原因的:员工是企业社交媒体的实际使用者,企业则认为它们才是这些沟通渠道的拥有者,这个问题应该如何界定目前并无定论,PhoneDog诉克拉维茨一案很有可能就此划出一条法律界线。美国法院一直主张,依托公司良好的声誉、利用公司资源积累起来的客户名单属于公司财产。但是微博上的粉丝、商务社交网络LinkedIn上的联系人或Facebook好友是不是也符合这一标准?

    普士高法律事务所劳工法部门负责人伊莉斯•布隆指出:“这中间存在着巨大的灰色地带。”她认为在最终尘埃落定前,还会出现更多类似PhoneDog状告克拉维茨这样的官司。

    布隆表示:“由于社交媒体自身的特性,要想让它有效果,就必须分享一定量的私人信息和观点。老板当然希望你能吸引大量粉丝,不过要实现这个目标,除了要在社交媒体上传递公司信息之外,还得谈论一下个人的婚礼计划,或是你喜欢哪家餐厅什么的。”

    这样做也没问题,但有一个问题在于:粉丝真正感兴趣的是你的公司还是你本人?

    It all started routinely enough. Noah Kravitz signed on with mobile device and app review site PhoneDog in 2006, and began using a company Twitter account to keep techno-gadget enthusiasts au courant with his often quirky views on new products and industry trends.

    Nothing unusual there: Most companies -- 76%, says a survey by New York City-based powerhouse law firm Proskauer -- now employ at least one, and often several, social-media mavens to carry their marketing message into cyberspace. Moreover, when he joined PhoneDog, Kravitz was already a popular Silicon Valley technophile with plenty of influence. What could possibly go wrong? A whole lot, apparently.

    In late 2010, Kravitz left PhoneDog -- and, with just a slight change in his Twitter handle, took about 17,000 followers out the door with him. (He's now editor-at-large at tech news-and-reviews site TechnoBuffalo.) So PhoneDog filed a lawsuit against Kravitz last July in federal court, alleging that those followers are, in effect, a customer list and PhoneDog's property. The company wants Kravitz to cough up $340,000: $2.50 per follower per month for 18 months. A hearing in the case, PhoneDog LLC v. Kravitz, is scheduled for January 26 in San Francisco.

    It gets weirder. Remember when parties to a lawsuit used to decline to comment until after a judge had spoken? Forget that. This brawl (which also encompasses Kravitz's grievance over partnership money he says PhoneDog owes him, and a couple of other murky issues) has got both sides in the lawsuit -- and many opinionated observers -- fulminating online, from tech blogs to law firm web sites.

    For good reason: PhoneDog v. Kravitz will likely establish some legal boundary lines, which are currently quite hazy, between employees' personal use of social media and employers' claim on those channels of communication. Courts have long held that client lists, built up over time on a company's good name and using its resources, are company property. But do Twitter followers -- or LinkedIn contacts, or Facebook friends -- meet the same standard?

    "There is a huge gray area here," says Elise Bloom, co-chair of Proskauer's employment law practice. She expects many more lawsuits like the Phonedog case before the dust finally settles.

    "Because of the nature of social media, you have to share a certain amount of personal information and commentary in order to be effective," Bloom says. "Attracting lots of followers and keeping them, which of course is what your employer wants, means that, yes, mixed in with the corporate messages, you are going to talk about planning your wedding or what restaurants you like."

    Fine, but it does raise the question: Is it your employer your followers are really interested in, or is it you?

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