back to article Your boss could own your Facebook profile

Employers could have grounds to demand ownership of employees' social networking profiles, such as those generated on Facebook, MySpace or Bebo, according to a leading intellectual property lawyer. The news comes in the wake of a court ruling which forced a journalist to hand over the contents of his contacts list to his former …


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  1. Mark Flingstone

    Manual backup

    One shouldn't underestimate the power of copy-and-paste.

    Of course, there's always a penalty you have to pay when you use the clickety-click variety of pen and paper.

    For those who don't want to, an 2GB USB sticker goes for less than 20 euros, privacy and copy-rights included.

  2. JP


    There's a German (may be other languages too) Professional Networking site that caters specifically for professional contacts, and is set up to allow transfer with the user during the course of their career. With this ruling, does that mean that this is completely obsolete, as all info entered on that site would actually belong to the employer?!?

    This is just insane. The employer should be given access to things like a contact list, so that they may maintain a relationship with a client, but they should be able to commandeer the whole thing!

  3. Chad H.

    Anyone read your employment contract recently? This is old news.

    Most employment contracts say that any product, including intellectual property done on work time is property of the company. If people started reading the darn things, this wouldn't be so much of a shock. Is the site created on Company time or as a part of your employment? Yes? Company property, that simple.

  4. Chris Cheale

    It sounds like...

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the ruling goes roughly to the effect of:

    The company owns any works you create "on company time".

    You own any works you create on your own time (i.e. the contact list the chap had before he started working for that company).

    So, and this is something probably anyone in IT is familiar with, if you create a piece of work in your own time, database structure, graphic, logo or whatever for your employer as UNPAID overtime... does that mean, as you're not being remunerated for your effort, that, unless you sign away the rights to it, you own that piece of work?

    "Give us dev guys a pay rise or yer brand new, shiny, top-secret program gets GPL'd!"

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    employment contracts?

    Some Intellectual Property clauses in previous employment contracts have been so OTT they're unbelievable. Generally from US-based companies who can't be bothered to check that their contracts are applicable to other jurisdictions. If you read some of them literally, it's got nothing to do with when or where you create something or even if it's related to your employment. Even if I wrote the 'next Harry Potter' in my own time on my own computer, some of my previous employers could have claimed to own it according to the contract. Of course if you ask a question about it the answer is "of course we wouldn't do that, don't be silly". But they still wouldn't change the wording of the contact.

    One of my previous employment contracts also claimed to stop me working in my chosen specialist field for 6 months after I left from the company.

    One particularly poor example was so laughable that when it was reviewed by a UK employment contract law specialist he said I could sign it if it made it easy with the new boss because it was completely unenforceable in a UK court.

  6. Martin Owens

    Anyone read your employment contract recently?

    As an open source programmer I can't sign the kind of contract that is mentioned in the last comment; I've seen those contracts that pretty much attempt to own anything that you create in and out of the work place; I just refuse it, not much I can do as there's no way I'm about to give up foss work for some money related work.

    The ones that are created in work, it'd be nice if they specified in software contracts what the rules are when a person brings in code from home, would an employer still respect the GPL even if you were the only coder?

  7. David

    employment contracts

    My contract states that, as well as my employer owning anything and everything that I do at work - not entirely unreasonable, I suppose - they also have first refusal over everything I do on my own time which is related to my work, or which uses the tools and/or software that my employer creates and/or provides. The contract also states that everything I do for a period of I forget how many years after I leave the company is also subject to this first refusal clause.

    I have no idea about the enforceability of these clauses.

  8. Dillon Pyron

    re: employment contracts

    Yeah, I've signed several. Most claim the rights to any "relevant" ideas, on or off the clock. I was laid off by one employer, who then sent me a letter for me to sign acknowledging that I had previously signed a contract which allowed them access to my IP I created for a period of one year after my termination as well as a stipulation that I not work for a competitor for a period of two years. I contacted lawyers in both Georgia and Texas, who both told me that my employer had terminated the contract when I was laid off and to not sign the letter. Never heard back, started a competitive consulting company a month later and beat them on two contracts.

    Texas is a right to work state and an employ at will state. So is Georgia.

  9. Silas Humphreys

    This is why I don't do such things from work.

    Frankly, though, if you've got time to use Facebook from work, you're being overpaid or you're swinging the lead. If you're told to get on Facebook by work, then it's just common sense to assume that they own your profile. If you want to avoid disputes, just don't do anything that involves a password or user ID from work. Simple, really...

  10. James Cleveland

    What if you knew the people, made friends?

    Surely you can't copyright friendships...surely...

  11. kain preacher

    non compete clause

    In California are only used for toilet paper.

  12. Tim Bates

    Lucky me...

    Only things I've ever had to sign for jobs are:

    Working with children criminal record check authorisation form

    Tax File Number declaration form

    Bank direct deposit details form

    I don't think I could ever sign a contract saying I would hand over anything created on my time. Bugger that.

  13. Dr Andrew A. Adams

    Equity in Law

    On a simple basis of equity, I'm very surprised that the employer got to keep and use what he brought with him. Unless it was explicitly stated in his contract that he was being paid for what he brought with him, surely the ownership of what he created on company time is ONLY what he created in that job. Anything else in inequitable. Either he owned the list before starting to work for the company, or one or more previous employers owned it. Either way, giving it all to the company, including the 80% he brought in, but denying him equivalent rights to the 20% he created while he was there is ridiculous.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A similar case

    I used to work for a screen-printing company who tried to pull this one on one of the employees. This guy came up with a new method of positioning sheets on a platen press for die-cutting, using off-centered rotary registration stops. He designed and made these things on his own time, at home, with his own tools and equipment, and paid for the patent out of his own pocket. Then, when he tried to sell them to other printing firms, the company stepped in and told him he couldn't because they owned the IP to his invention, on the grounds that he'd invented it in the course of his employment as a die-cutter, and ordered him to hand over the plans and patent registration.

    Our response? The ENTIRE die-cut and finishing department walked off the job on the spot, effectively shutting the company down. It took less than an hour for the management to come around to our point of view and let him have it. They signed a document agreeing that he was in fact the sole owner of his invention, and we all went back to work safe in the knowledge that we weren't completely powerless. We didn't need any unions, just good old mateship.

    Stick with your mates. That's how you deal with these one-sided and exploitative contracts.

  15. Matt Thornton

    Similar thing in academia

    The contract with the people who were funding my PhD was similarly sneaky... in return for my scholarship it said it wanted access to all work that I created in the duration of the work (fine) but also access to ALL previous work that both myself and my supervisor had done. Not so much a problem for me considering I was still a grubby student will little research history, but my supe is a leading Prof in the field and they wanted in on all his code and previous research and so on... !

    Needless to say, that clause was removed before we signed it.

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