BET Prevails in Dispute with Former Worker over Facebook Account

A recent case from the District of Southern Florida highlights the importance of clearly defined guidelines for workers or employees managing the employers’ social media accounts. Mattocks v. Black Entm’t Tv LLC, concerned a dispute between Black Entertainment Television LLC (“BET”) and Mattocks, whom it had hired to manage a Facebook Fan Page for one of its television programs, “The Game.” Mattocks independently had created the page as a hobby, without any involvement by BET. As such, pursuant to Facebook’s policies, Mattocks could not, and did not, post any BET-owned or third-party-owned content from the television series, or hold the Facebook page out to the public as the “official” Series Fan Page sponsored or operated by BET.

BET learned of Mattocks’ page and hired her on a part-time basis. Her duties included managing the page. BET prominently displayed its trademarks and logos on the page, encouraged BET’s viewers to “like” the page, and provided Mattocks with exclusive content, including links to video clips and photographs, to post on the page. BET regularly instructed Mattocks to post, or not to post, certain information on the page.

Mattocks and BET subsequently entered into a written agreement whereby BET agreed not to exclude Mattocks from the page by changing her administrative rights and Mattocks agreed to grant BET administrative rights, so that BET could update the content on the page at its discretion. After signing the agreement, BET and Mattocks entered into discussions for a full-time position for Mattocks at BET. During the course of those discussions, Mattocks restricted BET’s access to the page until the parties reached an agreement on her employment. In response, BET had Facebook “migrate” fans of the page to another official page for the “Game” television series BET had created, and shut down Mattocks’ page.

Mattocks unsuccessfully sued BET for, among other things, breach of contract and tortious interference of contract. The court found that BET was within its rights to take action to “migrate” the fans and shut down Mattocks’ page after Mattocks materially breached the parties’ written agreement by unilaterally restricting BET’s access to gain leverage in her discussions with BET for full-time employment.

As this case shows, a dispute arising from an employment relationship can significantly impact an employer’s social media presence. Employers should consider taking steps to protect themselves in such situations. Some examples include:

  • Establishing through written agreements that the employer has undisputed ownership rights to the social media accounts and to the content in those accounts
  • Specifying clearly in writing the rights and duties of the employer and any employees managing the social media accounts
  • Limiting the number of employees with the ability to control the employer’s social media accounts
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