As an educator, I own what I create and take it with me when I no longer teach a particular course, unit or program. Administration, the school, or the district does not own these materials: they are mine alone.
So, who owns what we create on social media? Well, that depends on whom you ask. Some social media sites claim ownership, in the small print (of course). But, in the world of social media, more and more is being created as part of a group effort. GoogleDocs and Wiki’s with multiple bits of owners, all contributing. And laws of ownership become murky.
A case in point is happening right now in Maine: a founder of a charter school (Maine’s first) who registered and created social media resources without compensation before the school was even created and approved. He developed a full website, a Facebook presence, and created numerous GoogleDocs to gather information necessary to start a private school: names, addresses and phone numbers of potential students and their parents. He built databases of information; he was only hired after the school was approved and given charter status by the State of Maine.
Now, he has taken the school’s entire social media presence hostage. He’s revoked shared privileges of GoogleDocs a week before his termination, and brought down both the website and Facebook presence the day after. He was also using applications for teaching and staffing position information that the board cannot access. And nearly all of the school’s data was reliant on GoogleDocs. So, who owns it?
Of course the board needs these resources: 160 interested students who’s funding is required to open the school this fall. The terminated director plans to utilize these resources, his intellectual property, in another endeavor – maybe even a competing charter school.
Clearly lawyers are going to get richer, as both sides have hired attorneys to sort out the legalities. According to Frauenheim, in the Workforce Management article: Social Media and HR: You can’t take it with you…or can you?, “Experts say companies ought to get out ahead of the portability problem by setting clear rules from the get-go about long-term ownership of social media material. Attention to the details of how social media accounts are set up also matters.” This was the case with recruiter Jackie Juge who left Microsoft, and took her five years worth of contact information with her. She now works for a division of Google (Frauenheim, 2011).
Many companies who don’t have a policy, or don’t clearly articulate exactly what their policy covers can find themselves in the same boat that Microsoft and now Baxter Academy for Technology and Science are in. A key component must include no-compete clauses and especially refer to social media created prior to yet becoming the property of the new entity, such as with the case of Baxter Academy failed to do. This is becoming more critical because “social media portability is a gray area lacking clear legal guidance” says Kathy O’Reilly, director of social medial relations for Monster Worldwide, Inc. “There really aren’t any precedent-setting cases” (Frauenheim, 2011).
In the meantime, the school is at a stalemate with its founder, each suing the other — as the board is trying desperately to recreate their social media resources.
Frauenheim, E. (2011). Social media and HR: You can’t take it with you…or can you? Workforce Management 90(6), 32-37.
Gallagher, N. (2013, March 11). Portland charter school sues its founder. Portland Press Herald. Retrieved from: http://www.pressherald.com/news/Portland-charter-school-launches-new-website-after-dispute-with-founder.html?searchterm=Baxter+academy
Note: printed newspaper article of Portland Press Herald in the March 9th edition was titled: Academy fights for control of websites. It was the same author.