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Who owns my LinkedIn contacts – me or my employer?

Answers

Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

What email address did you use when you established your account?

If it's your work email, then your company owns them and if you leave (or get terminated), you'll loose all of your contacts.

If you used a personal email address to open your account, the contacts are yours. And using your OWN email address is highly recommended.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I agree with Cindy, but it is a sticky wicket, depending on your State, any employment agreement you may have, Employee Manual, etc.

Talk with a qualified Attorney who handles this type of IP/Labor law.

Bob Tabachnick
Title: CPA, CMA, MBA, M.Fin.
Company: In-Between
(CPA, CMA, MBA, M.Fin., In-Between) |

It also depends on the industry you're in and the nature of the contacts. If the contacts constitute legitimate competitive business assets to the company, they will likely prevail during litigation, even if your employment agreement doesn't explicitly cover this (huge oversight).

This can be true on the purchasing / sourcing side, as well as the prospect / customer side - again, according to the industry. I have personally heard stories of the purchasing side issue coming up in both import / export, and in very narrow-margin (pharmaceutical components) and competitive (electronic components) manufacturing environments.

What Cindy said is true, but what Wayne said is also very on-point. You need to speak with a labor law attorney. Try to choose one who has worked with your industry.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

This area of Internet law is constantly evolving. The answer today may not be the answer tomorrow, so think twice before you engage an attorney.

A little story - I supported a Sales organization in a past life, for a Fortune 100 company. There were established policies and procedures of what Sales could and could not do with respect to client information. Of course the idea was that the customer belonged to the company and not the Sales force. We had stringent compensation/employment documents that made that representation. I agree with all of these policies, in practice. But in reality - if the Sales person left and subsequent orders from that customer dispeared, it was very hard to prove that the Salesperson stole the client vs the client chose to go with that Sales person. Business is all about Relationship Development. Just because I leave an organization, I do not stop my relationships. They become a part of my Network.

Now to your question - Linked-in is an on-line phone book. Albeit a very powerful phone book, but a phone book none the less. I store my contacts gained from all parts of my life, and I interact with them. If you placed all of those contacts in an adddress book, would they become owned by the company?

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: CEO & COO
Company: Treasury Careers
LinkedIn Profile
(CEO & COO, Treasury Careers) |

Another potential issue could be who "owns" your LinkedIn profile. What if you use you LinkedIn profile in your job and your company pays for your monthly access? If you build a great profile that includes recommendations, your groups, etc. , can the company "take your account" and lock you out?

Alastair McKeating
Title: Regional Manager
Company: Adaptive Planning
(Regional Manager, Adaptive Planning) |

I think the question and some of the answers are confusing rights, behaviour, manifestations thereof, and enforceability.

My LinkedIn profile is a manifestation of me and is IMO clearly 'mine'. It contains personal information that is of no interest to my employer and it reflects a network built up over a long life -- I won't even use the word career as my network includes childhood friends. My employer can no more shut down my LinkedIn account than they could 'destroy' my resume. Only I have my password and so my company cannot lock me out.

Nor can my employer 'own' my contacts. They may own a physical file (CRM) that contains that information but they cannot own my knowledge. A non-compete clause may prevent me from doing business with some contacts (for a period of time) but it cannot prohibit me from knowing them and I don't believe they can prohibit me from connecting with them.

My company pays for an upgraded LinkedIn account, and were I to leave I expect they would terminate that upgrade, but they cannot and would not terminate the account. The social fallout from such heavy handed behaviour would trump any legal right they might have.

I believe (although I'm not certain), that my email address is merely a way of directing some communication to me (updates, messages, etc.) and if i use my work email as my primary address, and leave the company, those emails will no longer be delivered to me because I no longer have access to that email address. But I'm pretty sure I still have access to my LInkedIn account and can subsequently change my email information. LinkedIn does recommend that we provide at least one personal email address.

All that said, I'm not aware of every possible use of LinkedIn. People have duplicate (or triplicate) accounts, either by design or by accident. It's possible that a company might set up a particular LinkedIn account for a business purpose (much like a company Facebook page) and shut down that page upon termination, but I would expect that it would be clearly established that this account was the company's and not mine and I'd be ill served to blend my personal and professional life in that account.

Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

Just to be clear ... someone contacted me with exactly this situation. His Linkedin account used his work email address, and when he was terminated unexpectedly and his work email address disabled, he was no longer able to log into his account. He lost his account and his contacts.

BTW, you might want to think about both downloading your profile and your contacts as a hedge of protection against such a situation.

Topic Expert
Malak Kazan
Title: VP, Special Projects
Company: ERI Economic Research Institute
(VP, Special Projects, ERI Economic Research Institute) |

Most jobs today require some interaction with social media. To dovetail with current comments, individuals should keep separate accounts, personal and business. There may be an over lap of contacts unless your employer has a specific policy suggesting that "personal use of business contacts is prohibited". Some companies that heavily rely on social media for their business may even have a Marketing person set up / approve employee accounts for branding purposes etc. (starting to see this more).

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Your contacts are your own, however if your employer does not have a CRM or contact management system and you were hired in a sales, marketing, business development capacity, you may be obligated to provide your employer with the contact points you have made on their behalf.

If your employer is in the process of implementing a CRM like Sales Force etc, you may need to provide them with the contacts that have to do with your employment with them so they will be able to capture a complete network of contacts that you were compensated to provide.

If you were hired on the basis of your access to decision makers throughout the market you serve, then it could be that you will need to provide them access to those contacts so they can implement their CRM system. If they hired you for your Rolodex, but you did not have an attorney clarify what that meant via a written document that both of you signed, then you may have a very hard time keeping them from acquiring your network.

On the positive side, this does not mean you cannot keep your contacts as is in linkedin and take them with you at termination.

Consult an employment attorney. If you were hired in a decision maker capacity this issue is greater than if you were hired as a low level staff person.

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