A Vital Decision on Social Media Ownership | Insights & Resources

A Vital Decision on Social Media Ownership | Insights & Resources

Social media continues to develop at a rare tempo. Companies frequently introduce new social media platforms to {the marketplace} and search new methods to make the most of such platforms to advance their companies. At the identical time, the regulation has struggled to deal with novel points stemming from social media—particularly because it pertains to intellectual-property possession.
On June 16, 2023, in In re Vital Pharmaceutical, Case No. 22-17842 (PDR), the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida (the “Court”) granted abstract judgment to Vital Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in a dispute over possession of a number of social media accounts Vital used to market merchandise, and in doing so, the Court articulated a brand new commonplace for figuring out possession of social media accounts.1 Rejecting precedent from the Southern District of Texas, the Court acknowledged that prior selections don’t adequately tackle the brand new methods social media is utilized by companies. The Vital choice supplies steerage for firms in managing their social media accounts and growing social media insurance policies. Below, we offer an outline of the Vital choice together with key takeaways and recommended guardrails for companies in drafting social media insurance policies.
On October 10, 2022, Vital Pharmaceuticals and its associates (the “Debtors”) commenced chapter 11 circumstances. The Debtors, a producer of Bang, a once-ubiquitous vitality drink, obtained Court approval to promote their property within the chapter continuing—together with Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok account handles for the Bang model. The Debtors closely relied on social media advertising and marketing to promote their merchandise and believed the sale of these accounts was essential to maximise the worth of their property in any sale.2 The Debtors’ former CEO, John H. Owoc, claimed possession rights over the accounts in dispute, arguing that he used these accounts to develop his “persona” and market his private model. At challenge earlier than the Court was who owned these accounts: Vital or Mr. Owoc?
Prior Test
Before Vital, the newest noteworthy chapter courtroom ruling on social media possession was a case determined in 2015, In re CTLI, LLC.3 In that case, a chapter courtroom dominated {that a} Facebook account working underneath the title of the debtor enterprise belonged to the debtor, not the person proprietor of the corporate who ran the account.4 There, the courtroom discovered that utilizing the title of the enterprise because the account deal with created a presumption of possession in favor of the debtor. The courtroom weighed different elements in favor of the debtor having possession: the Facebook web page included hyperlinks to the debtor’s web site; posts had been usually business-related; and the proprietor gave staff entry to make use of the account to put up the corporate’s advertising and marketing standing updates.5 While the proprietor had used the account for “private” posts, the courtroom famous that these had been merely “delicate types of advertising and marketing,” and people posts weren’t robust sufficient elements to beat the presumption of possession created by the account title.
Test Established by the Vital Court
In Vital, the Court noticed that, with the rise of social media, the CTLI framework “offers an excessive amount of weight to the title (of the account).”6 While the title of the account could also be related, the Court famous it doesn’t create a presumption of possession. It additional famous social media has developed for the reason that CTLI case was determined, and the prior commonplace is simply too slender in suggesting “that any ‘private’ posts that domesticate a person’s status are actually ‘enterprise’ in nature — and subsequently can’t overcome the presumption that the account rights are owned by the corporate — if the status being cultivated may serve a enterprise objective.”7
Instead, the Court adopted a brand new framework for figuring out social media possession, which analyzes three components: documented property curiosity, management over entry, and use.8

Documented Property Interest. Courts ought to take a look at “paperwork or proof {that a} property curiosity within the account rights creates a rebuttable presumption that the celebration with the documented property curiosity owns the account rights.”9
Typical proof consists of phrases of service and might also embody an employer’s social media coverage or worker handbook.10

Control Over Access. A rebuttable presumption created by a documented property curiosity could be overcome by proof of management over entry to the account.
This would come with proof one celebration has unique energy to entry the account, the identical celebration has unique energy to forestall others from accessing the account, and the social media account permits that celebration to readily establish itself in any manner as having that energy.
The Court famous that proof of management over entry “will not often overcome a rebuttable presumption created by a documented property curiosity. But, if neither celebration has a ‘documented property curiosity,’ then conclusive proof of ‘management over entry’ creates its personal rebuttable presumption of possession.”11

Use. If a celebration has each a documented property curiosity and management over entry, the inquiry ends. But if there’s a rebuttable presumption of possession arising due to both a documented property curiosity or management over entry however not each, that may be overcome by proof of “use” of the account.12
Because social media is continually evolving, the Court discovered there is no such thing as a mounted set of things, however courts could think about, amongst different issues, who created the account and whether or not the account makes use of the title of the enterprise or particular person; is for the unique objective of selling; or is utilized by an individual to advertise a number of companies or merchandise however whose promotion largely relies upon on their persona and they’re compensated for such promotion.13
The Court additionally talked about that if modifications to the account at challenge can be required primarily based the Court’s ruling (i.e., eradicating the corporate’s brand from the account or altering passwords), that may lend itself to favoring one celebration over the opposite.14

Key Takeaways
Although there’s a dearth in jurisprudence since CTLI addressing social media possession questions, absent statutory steerage, the Vital courtroom’s choice supplies steerage to different courts on methods to stability these points and to companies on methods to craft safeguards to guard their social media capital. Here are just a few key takeaways for companies to implement of their social media insurance policies:

Draft clear documentation addressing possession. Including language in any employment agreements that specifies the corporate’s possession of any social media account is essential to establishing possession of the accounts. This was the issue the Court weighed most closely in its ruling. 
Documentation also needs to point out who controls the accounts. The firm ought to keep management over the account, together with passwords, usernames, and personnel entry, and may think about together with clear language in its social media and worker insurance policies stating as a lot.
Encourage solely promotional posts or posts which might be primarily promotional in nature on the accounts. While the Court acknowledged that “delicate” types of advertising and marketing are most popular by companies on social media, you will need to be sure that posts, nevertheless delicate, are in the end associated to the corporate, slightly than a person or worker.


[1] In re Vital Pharm., 652 B.R. 392 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 2023).[2] Id. at 399.[3] In re CTLI, LLC, 528 B.R. 359, 367 74 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2015).[4] Id.at 366 67.[5] Id. at 368, 372.[6] Vital, 652 B.R. at 406.[7] Id. at 406-07.[8] Id. at 407-08.[9] Id. at 407.[10] Id.[11] Id. at 407-08.[12] Id. at 408.[13] Id. at 410.[14] Id. at 411.


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