The Law and Business of Social Media
June 29, 2023 - Digital Content, Social Media Policy, Influencer Marketing, Online Promotions

Social Links: Social Media Account Ownership Once Again in the Spotlight

Social media continues to dominate the headlines this spring, with several high-profile events capturing the media’s, regulators’, and lawmakers’ attention.

Jack Owoc, founder and former CEO of Bang Energy (“Bang,” a performance energy beverage), claimed that he retained the rights to control Bang’s social media accounts, namely Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. Owoc claimed that these accounts were intertwined with his own personal brand and therefore belonged to him.

The courts and Vital Pharmaceuticals (“Vital”), Bang’s manufacturer, saw things differently. In March, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Peter D. Russin for the Southern District of Florida blocked Owoc from the accounts; in April, Owoc was forced to delete disparaging comments he made on his Instagram handle @BangEnergy.CEO about advisers who were trying to sell the bankrupt energy drink maker. (Vital, Bang’s parent company, filed for bankruptcy in October 2020.) In March 2023, Vital removed Owoc as CEO, replacing him with John C. DiDonato.

Social media account ownership was a hot topic about a decade ago, with several high-profile cases such as PhoneDog v. Kravitz, Ardis Health, LLC et al. v. Nankivell, Eagle v. Morgan, and Maremont v. Susan Fredman Design Group LTD,which we discussed here in the 2013 article Ownership of Business-Related Social Media Accounts. We provided additional coverage of similar work-related social media account ownership issues in our 2012 post, “Which Side Are You On? Employers and Employees Battle Over Ownership of Social Media Accounts.”

In addition, we’ve had our eye on other aspects of the social media fabric for more than a decade. In two 2014 posts (“What’s in a Like and “She Liked It. She Really, Really Liked It: Federal District Court Holds Facebook Fan Page Manager Doesn’t Own ‘Likes’), we discuss the value of social media “likes” as assets, including likes as protected speech, as property, and as concerted activity. We reviewed cases such as Bland v. Roberts and Mattocks v. Black Entertainment Television that respectively raised issues of likes as protected speech and likes as property.

The recent events of the Bang matter have reignited the conversation around social media account ownership and control. In addition, when a company and its owner/founder are closely aligned, if not synonymous, as was the case with Owoc and Bang, it raises additional questions where the line between a company and a person’s brand identity rests.