Getting a handle on social media: new guidance to help companies establish their ownership rights in social media accounts | Allen & Overy LLP

Getting a handle on social media: new guidance to help companies establish their ownership rights in social media accounts | Allen & Overy LLP

Social media accounts are more and more a essential part of company advertising, permitting companies to construct model consciousness, attain new audiences, create and keep relationships with prospects and observe the market’s notion of a model or product, all at decreased price relative to conventional promoting. As such, social media accounts have change into integral and, in some instances, inextricably linked with a firm’s worth.

However, as is commonly the case, the legislation has lagged behind the expertise, together with on questions associated to figuring out property rights in social media accounts.

In its current resolution in Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Owoc (In re Vital Pharmaceuticals), No. 23-1051 (PDR), 2023 WL 4048979 (Bankr. S.D. Fl. June 16, 2023), the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida (the “Bankruptcy Court”) set forth a new framework for figuring out ownership of a social media account and, particularly, whether or not an account belongs to a firm or a person that operates a social media account used to promote the corporate. In the evolving world of expertise and social media, the new framework offers a helpful information to help companies attempt to guarantee their ownership of those basically necessary and beneficial property each in and outdoors chapter instances.

Factual Background

Vital Pharmaceuticals and its associates (collectively, “Vital”) manufacture and promote to retail prospects varied power drinks, together with most prominently “Bang” power drink. Bang attributes its success in giant half to its social media advertising, which beforehand prominently featured its founder, sole shareholder and former chief government officer (the “Former CEO”). The Former CEO and/or his spouse, a former senior vp of promoting for Vital, created three of Vital’s many social media accounts. The three accounts referenced each “bangenergy” and “ceo” in the handle (or consumer title) (the “CEO Accounts”).1 The Former CEO maintained the passwords for the CEO Accounts and infrequently posted content material to the CEO Accounts himself. However, he additionally supplied entry to the accounts to different Vital staff, who have been permitted to create and submit content material to the CEO Accounts with out the Former CEO’s approval. Based on proof offered to the Bankruptcy Court, roughly 75% of the posts to the CEO Accounts primarily promoted Bang power merchandise, whereas roughly 25% primarily promoted the Former CEO’s particular person persona.

Following an adversarial arbitration award and amid different mounting litigation, Vital filed for chapter 11 chapter safety in October 2022. Shortly after the chapter submitting, Vital’s board fired the Former CEO and his spouse and demanded they return all firm property. However, they refused to flip over the passwords to the CEO Accounts. In response, Vital commenced an adversary continuing and moved for abstract judgment towards the couple looking for a declaration that the CEO Accounts have been Vital’s property and requiring turnover of the accounts to Vital’s chapter estates.

Bankruptcy Court Decision

The Bankruptcy Code defines “property of the property” broadly to embrace “all authorized or equitable pursuits of the debtor in property as of the graduation of the [bankruptcy] case.”2 Courts usually look to relevant state legislation to make determinations about what constitutes a debtor’s property.3 However, there may be little or no state legislation statutory guidance on property rights in social media accounts and solely scattered and inconsistent prior case legislation coping with figuring out ownership of social media accounts beneath widespread legislation.4

Prior to the Vital resolution, the few courts addressing the problem of ownership rights in social media accounts have relied upon the usual articulated in In re CTLI, LLC, 528 B.R. 359 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2015), a earlier chapter resolution that thought-about ownership rights in social media accounts between a firm and an proprietor of the corporate. The CTLI courtroom and different courts contemplating the problem since that point have concluded that accounts bearing the title of the enterprise create a presumption that the accounts are property of the property beneath part 541 of the Bankruptcy Code.5 The Vital courtroom, nevertheless, believed that such a presumption was outdated as a result of social media has continued to evolve because the virtually 10 years since CTLI was determined. In its place, the Vital courtroom set forth the next new framework for figuring out whether or not ownership of a social media account lies with a firm or a person:

Documented Property Interest: If there may be an settlement that gives proof of a property curiosity in the account, it creates a rebuttable presumption that the celebration with such documented curiosity owns the account rights. Relevant paperwork or proof would come with the social media platform’s account-opening doc or phrases of use and an employer’s social media coverage or handbook that specifies ownership of accounts created by an worker whereas employed.
Control Over Access: The rebuttable presumption created by a documented property curiosity can, however “hardly ever” will, be overcome by proof of management over entry to the account. Such proof contains whether or not: (i) one celebration has unique energy to entry the account; (ii) that celebration has unique energy to forestall others from accessing the account; and (iii) the social media account permits that celebration to readily determine itself in any method as having that unique energy. In the absence of a documented property curiosity, proof of management over entry to the account creates a rebuttable presumption of ownership. If a celebration can show each a documented property curiosity and management over entry, that ends the inquiry.
Use: A rebuttable presumption arising from a documented property curiosity or management over entry (however not each) may be overcome by proof of “use” of the social media account. Evidence of use contains: (i) the title used for the account; (ii) whether or not it’s used to promote a number of merchandise; (iii) whether or not the account is used to promote a persona; (iv) how willpower of ownership of the account would change its use; and (v) whether or not any required modifications to the account’s use would basically change the character of the account.

In Vital, neither celebration was in a position to supply adequate proof of a documented property curiosity or management over entry to the accounts. With no presumption arising out of a documented property curiosity or management over entry, the inquiry hinged on the “use” prong of the check. The Bankruptcy Court centered on the truth that the CEO Accounts have been primarily used to promote Bang power drink. The Former CEO argued that he had used the CEO Accounts to create and promote a persona separate and aside from the Bang power model. However, the Bankruptcy Court finally held that the cultivation of the Former CEO’s persona was a small portion of the account’s use and far of it was incidental to the promotion of Bang power merchandise. Accordingly, the Bankruptcy Court entered abstract judgment in favor of Vital on the problem of ownership of the CEO Accounts and ordered that the Former CEO and his spouse flip over the accounts to Vital.


The Vital framework for figuring out social media account ownership offers up to date and considerate guidance in a comparatively undeveloped space of legislation. Although rendered in the context of a chapter 11 case, its multi-factor method might be influential outdoors of chapter given the evident want for any kind of authorized guidance on the topic.

On a extra sensible stage, Vital suggests easy however necessary steps companies can take to establish their ownership over social media accounts:

Companies ought to perceive the actual social media platform’s account opening paperwork and phrases of service when creating or directing a person to create an account or when a person does so on his/her/their personal however is primarily selling the enterprise.
Companies ought to have staff and, in specific, officers and administrators signal an settlement particularly acknowledging the corporate’s ownership of social media accounts created for the aim of or used primarily for selling the enterprise.
Companies must also guarantee they’ve entry to and management of distinguished company-related enterprise accounts of staff, administrators and, to the extent possible, principals.

Following the helpful normal laid out by the Vital courtroom ought to place companies to efficiently argue that they’ve ownership rights in social media accounts of people which can be considerably tied to the enterprise.


1 The CEO accounts particularly consisted of: (i) an Instagram account with the handle; (ii) a TikTok account with the handle; and (iii) a Twitter account with the handle @BangEnergyCEO.

2 11 U.S.C. § 541.

3 See, e.g., Butner v. United States, 440 U.S. 48 (1979).

4 See Kathleen McGarvey Hidy, Let Them Eat Cake: Social Media Accounts Property Rights, and the Digital Rights Revolution, 71 DePaul L. Rev. 47, 55-69 (2022) (discussing instances addressing social media account ownership); Tiffany Miao, Access Denied: How Social Media Accounts Fall Outside the Scope of Intellectual Property Law and into the Realm of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 23 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 1017 (2013) (discussing software of varied mental property regimes to social media accounts).

5 See, e.g., JLM Couture, Inc. v. Gutman, No. 20 CV 10575-LTS-SLC, 2023 WL 2503432, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 14, 2023) (citing CTLI evaluation in concluding chance of success in exhibiting that social media accounts belonged to enterprise fairly than particular person in preliminary injunction continuing); Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters Loc. 651 v. Philbeck, 464 F. Supp. 3d 863, 872 (E.D. Ky. 2020) (citing CTLI in concluding that Facebook web page belonged to union not particular person).

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