Pattishall IP Blog

January 5, 2012

Using An Employee’s Personal Social Media Accounts Without Her Authorization To Market Employer May Create Liability Under Trademark And Electronic Privacy Laws

Filed under: Advertising, Litigation, Right of Publicity, Trademark (General) — Tags: , , , — Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson LLP @ 10:55 am

by Phillip Barengolts, Trademark Attorney

We’ve all been taught that our work e-mail and social media accounts are owned by our employers, so watch what you say and realize that you have no expectation of privacy in those accounts.  But what happens when an employee uses a personal account to promote her employer?  According to one court, the employer’s use of these accounts without the employee’s authorization can lead to liability under the Lanham Act and the Stored Communications Act. Maremont v. Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd., Case No. 10 C 7811 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 7, 2011).[1]

The plaintiff, Jill Maremont, was the Director of Marketing, Public Relations, and E-commerce for the defendant Susan Fredman Design Group, Ltd. (SFDG), a prominent interior design firm based in Chicago.  As part of a social media marketing campaign for SFDG, Maremont created a blog on SFDG’s website.  She also promoted SFDG through her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts., including by linking to the SFDG website and blog.  She entered and stored all account access information, including passwords for her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, on the SFDG server.  She never gave authority to anyone to access her personal Twitter and Facebook accounts. Maremont’s compensation was, in part, based on the overall sales of SFDG, so she had every incentive to promote SFDG.

After suffering a serious accident, Maremont could not work for some time and SFDG decided to continue posting to Maremont’s personal accounts to promote SFDG.  Once she found out, Maremont asked SFDG to stop – but SFDG did not.  After some back and forth about Maremont returning to work for SFDG, she went to another company and sued SFDG over the use of her social media accounts.  (more…)

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