Legal Ownership of Social Media

What do you really control when you use social networks? One Indianapolis attorney named Mark Zuckerberg found out: not so much. According to the LA Times, Facebook terminated (but later reinstated) the account of Zuckerberg, Esq. because they thought it was an attempt to impersonate Facebook's founder. Says the Mark Z with a slightly lower net worth: "If you had Googled Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, you would have found me," the attorney writes on his website. "No one else. Mark S. Zuckerberg, bankruptcy attorney. If you had repeated the search two years later, you wouldn't have found me at all." Facebook later apologized for the error: "Our reviewers look at thousands of pieces of content a day that are reported to them and of course make an occasional mistake. When this happens, and we're notified about it, we work quickly to restore the content. We have reactivated this person's account and sent him an email apologizing for the inconvenience." If this happens to you and you don't get some media coverage, you are out of luck. And you likely have no legal redress if they terminate your account and essentially confiscate your user-generated content. It's a reminder for lawyers who want to invest time in the leading social networks that you really don't control your account identity, or the content you or others place in it. Here's the applicable Terms of Service provisions from the Social Big Three: Facebook: Sec 4 (3). If we disable your account, you will not create another one without our permission. Sec 4 (10). If you select a username for your account we reserve the right to remove or reclaim it if we believe appropriate (such as when a trademark owner complains about a username that does not closely relate to a user's actual name). Twitter: We reserve the right at all times (but will not have an obligation) to remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services and to terminate users or reclaim usernames. LinkedIn: Sec 4 (A) LinkedIn further reserves the right to withhold, remove and or discard any content available as part of your account, with or without notice if deemed by LinkedIn to be contrary to this Agreement. Sec 4 (D) LinkedIn reserves the right, but has no obligation, to monitor disputes between you and other members and to restrict, suspend, or close your account if LinkedIn determines, in our sole discretion, that doing so is necessary to enforce this Agreement. If lawyers don't read the TOS, what about the other half-a-billion plus users out there? This is one reason I admire those who start and build legal social networks or ratings sites. Certainly sometime one will face the mother of all lawsuits from some aggrieved lawyer with a feeble legal position, but a lot of spare time. There is only one social media resource that gives a lawyer some measure of control and an ownership stake in online equity. And yes, you're using it right now. (But you can bet I'm going to tweet about this post in just a minute…)

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