Who Owns Your Facebook Likes?

A case recently came before a district court in Florida about who owned the 'likes' of a Facebook page for a television programme. Margaret Tofalides and Kimberley Smith discuss the case and how such likes might be protected under English law.

The use of social media as a communication tool in business has increased exponentially over the past decade. These platforms are normally free of charge, but companies invest significant resources in their creation and upkeep. The platform, along with any associated "follower", "like" or other endorsement gained, is recognised to be valuable asset. But who owns these assets and how does this work in a global data environment? A recent US case sheds light on some of these issues, which will undoubtedly end up impacting other jurisdictions.

Mattocks v Black Entertainment Television

In August, the district court for the Southern District of Florida considered the question of who owned "likes" on Facebook.1

In 2008, Stacey Mattocks, a fan of a television show called The Game, created a Facebook fan page for the show. When The Game was cancelled in 2009, Mattocks continued to promote the show in the hope that a network would pick it back up. Mattocks' efforts were successful and after gaining over 750,000 "Likes", Black Entertainment Network ("BET") picked up the show.

Recognising the popularity of Mattocks' page, BET hired her to perform part-time work for the company and eventually, BET and Mattocks entered into a 'letter agreement' in which Mattocks agreed to grant BET administrative access to the page and, in return, BET agreed not to exclude Mattocks from it. A year later, following disputes as to Mattocks' exact terms of employment with BET, she demoted BET's administrative access to the page. In response, BET asked Facebook to "migrate fans" of Mattocks' page to their own official page and sent Mattocks a cease- and-desist letter. After a review of the page, Facebook granted BET's request.

Mattocks then brought an action against BET claiming that the network had (i) tortiously interfered with her contractual relationship with Facebook; (ii) breached the letter agreement; (iii) breached a duty of good faith and fair dealing; and (iv) converted a business interest that she held in the Facebook page. Mattocks alleged that as a result of BET's actions, she lost potential income from other companies, including Google AdSense, which paid her for redirecting users. The court granted BET's motion for...

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