(CN) – Banking educator Edcomm misappropriated its founder’s identity by filling her LinkedIn account with the picture and information of its new CEO, a federal judge ruled.
After receiving her triple doctorate in communications, business and psychology from Temple University in 1980, Linda Eagle co-founded Edcomm Inc., an online and in-person banking education services provider, with Clifford Brody who acted as CEO.
Around May 2009, Brody began urging employees to use LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site, so Eagle created an account using her Edcomm email address. She gave her password to certain employees so they could respond to invitations and update her account.
Edcomm never issued a policy stating that it owned the LinkedIn accounts of its employees, but several executives toed that line in a March 2, 2010, email chain.
David Shapp wrote that the account of one former female worker “was created with an email account that is ours, on our computers, on our time and at our direction. She cannot use that account because she does not own the email address that opened it.”
Later that year, Sawabeh Information Services Co. (SISCOM) purchased all of Edcomm’s outstanding common shares. Eagle, Brody and Shapp remained employed as Edcomm executives, but Haitham Saead involuntarily terminated them on June 20, 2011.
Edcomm then changed the password on Eagle’s LinkedIn account. Without announcing her termination, it then replaced her name, picture, education, and experience on the account with that of newly appointed interim CEO Sandi Morgan.
Some of Eagle’s information – such as her honors and awards – nevertheless remained on the account, but under Morgan’s name. Plus, a Google search for “Linda Eagle” would direct to a URL bearing Eagle’s name, which linked to the page with Morgan’s name and credentials.
On July 7, LinkedIn took over the account, and Eagle regained access a week later, though she claims that she did not receive messages from June to October.
Eagle sued Edcomm, Saead, Morgan and four other Edcomm employees for “hijacking” her account on July 1. The complaint, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, cites 11 causes of action, including violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Lanham Act.
On Oct. 4, 2012, U.S. District Judge S.J. Buckwalter granted Edcomm’s motion for summary judgment on Eagle’s federal claims. The latest ruling on the state-law claims resulted in a “mixed bag for both sides” last week.
Eagle’s identity theft claim failed.
“Even assuming plaintiff’s ‘honors and awards’ could be deemed identifying information, plaintiff presented no testimony to show that that information was taken and used for an ‘unlawful purpose,'” Buckwalter wrote. “Rather, the evidence reflects that this information was inadvertently left on the profile page despite defendant Edcomm’s efforts to delete all of plaintiff’s other identifying information. Accordingly, the court finds no merit to this cause of action.”
The court found Edcomm liable on Eagle’s misappropriation of identity claims.
“Plaintiff had a privacy interest not just in her picture and resume, but in her name,” the 32-page ruling states. “There is sufficient evidence that the name ‘Dr. Linda Eagle’ had the benefit of reputation, prestige, and commercial value within the banking education industry. While defendant updated the home page of the LinkedIn account to mostly reflect Sandi Morgan’s information, defendant maintained that home page under a URL containing Dr. Eagle’s name. Thus, someone searching for Dr. Eagle on LinkedIn would be unwittingly directed to a page with information about Ms. Morgan and Edcomm. Such a scenario could be deemed to be ‘appropriat[ing] to [Edcomm’s] own use or benefit the reputation, prestige, social or commercial standing, public interest or other values of plaintiff’s name.’ Accordingly, the court finds that cefendant has committed the tort of invasion of privacy by misappropriation of identity.”
Buckwalter dismissed Edcomm’s counterclaims of misappropriation and unfair competition, and denied Eagle compensatory damages.
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