Early in my law school career, one phrase stuck with me right away: “tough cases make bad law.” This, of course, begs the question, what makes a “tough” case. Usually it’s a unique fact pattern that has limited applicability to a broader spectrum of cases. In the nascent and growing area of Social Media law, there is no shortage of quirky cases.
My hat is off to Eric Goldman who recently blogged about a social media case that is “tough” because of the way that the lawyers framed the issue. On its face, the case of Christou v. Betaport is an unfair competition case between a night club owner and one of his former partners. The case, being tried in a federal court in Denver, Colorado, involves trade secret theft and antitrust allegations and alleged misuse of MySpace “friends.” Essentially, the complaint alleges that Roulier, a principle of Beatport and former associate of Christou, used a MySpace account to promote his club at the expense of Christou.
Goldman gets to the heart of why this case is tough: “the plaintiffs allege that they “secured the profiles through web profile login and passwords.” This is a garbled allegation.” Put another way, the lawyers whose job it is to supply the facts that frame the issues, probably meant to say something else. According to Goldman the plaintiffs probably meant that the defendants accessed an account impermissibly and in so doing accessed information they did not have a right to access. In terms of a claim for trade secret misappropriation, the harm came when defendants used that information.
I like Goldman’s article because he takes the time to break down both the confused framing of the issue, but also the court’s apparent confusion with how to address it. It’s a short article and definitely worth the few minutes it takes to read.
From my perspective the key take-away is a perspective on the trade secret implications of Social Media accounts. Business and their lawyers are constantly trying to evaluate the legal risks of Social Media and provide guidance on how best to mitigate those risks.
Protecting a Social Media account as a trade secret seems a tricky proposition. Ostensibly, the primary “value” of an account is the list of “followers.” A list that is publicly available is, therefore, not a secret. A better approach is to treat the login credentials themselves as the trade secret since this control’s ones ability to access the account and to communicate with those followers.
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