PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A well-known financial services trainer claims her former employer “hijacked” her account on the professional networking site LinkedIn, stealing her identity, invading her privacy, and harming her reputation. The former employer – not LinkedIn – is the defendant.
Linda Eagle’s federal complaint against Edcomm and six of its officers and employees highlights a legal question of the Digital Age: Do people hold a property interest in their profiles on social networking sites, and if so, how much is it worth?
LinkedIn, which is not a party to the case, claims to have more than 100 million users and bills itself as the world’s largest online professional network. Relationships between professionals and businesses are displayed through the site’s “Connections” feature. Its “Recommendations” feature allows users to provide testimonials for colleagues, co-workers or businesses.
Eagle, who describes herself as “perhaps the most prominent woman in the field of banking training in the world,” claims the defendants commandeered her LinkedIn profile, and misattributed her achievements to a new employee.
Eagle claims this “unauthorized access and misappropriation of (her) LinkedIn account” and the acquisition of “sole control over that information” damaged her by “at least $5,000.”
Eagle’s attorneys, Michael Lieberman and Sharon McKee, with Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin, say Eagle’s “Recommendations” and “Connections” are worth “far more” than $5,000.
“They’re incredibly valuable to her ability to work,” McKee said.
The attorneys say this is the first case of this nature they have seen.
“We haven’t found anything [similar] yet,” Lieberman told Courthouse News.
Eagle says Edcomm fired her in June. Edcomm is a New York-based banking-education company branded as a “Banker’s Academy,” which Eagle says she co-founded around 1987.
Eagle says that after she got the boot, at least one Edcomm employee got access to her LinkedIn account without authorization, changed her password – locking her out of her own profile page – then created a sham profile that was substantively the same as the real one.
With one big difference: Eagle says her own name and picture were replaced by those of the company’s recently appointed interim CEO, defendant Sandi Morgan.
“As a result of the unauthorized access and misappropriation of Dr. Eagle’s LinkedIn account, individuals searching for Dr. Eagle are routed to a LinkedIn page featuring Ms. Morgan’s name and photograph, but Dr. Eagle’s honors and awards, recommendations and connections,” according to the complaint.
(Eagle is not a physician. She “holds a Ph.D. in communication and psychology,” according to her complaint.)
Eagle says her LinkedIn profile belongs to her and her alone: “Dr. Eagle, and no one else, owns her LinkedIn account and has the right to use it,” the complaint states.
Her attorneys say the switcheroo constitutes identify theft.
“It’s kind of like switching heads,” Lieberman said.
Eagle says her professional history has been seized and portrayed as defendant Morgan’s, with blatant references to Eagle’s service in professional organizations and on the Board of Ethics at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.
“As a result of the unauthorized access and misappropriation of Dr. Eagle’s LinkedIn account, individuals searching for Dr. Eagle are routed to a LinkedIn page featuring Ms. Morgan’s name and photograph, but Dr. Eagle’s honors and awards, recommendations and connections,” the complaint states.
The old switcheroo was imperfect, the complaint states, as one of the “Recommendations” continues to refer to Eagle by name, concluding, “Linda is the best!”
And the “Honors and Awards” section details accolades received by Eagle, but misattributed to Morgan, according to the complaint. Eagle claims the defendants are using her account “both to prevent her connections from reaching her, and to acquire business connections for the benefit of Ms. Morgan and Edcomm.”
The sham profile appears as the third result of a Google search for “Linda Eagle,” Eagle claims.
“The misappropriation of Dr. Eagle’s LinkedIn page has caused the loss of the value of her LinkedIn account; confusion among her connections and potential connections; damage to her reputation; diminution of the fair market value of Dr. Eagle’s name; and the loss of good will associated with her name,” according to the complaint.
Eagle claims the defendants are still holding her profile hostage, even after an attorney sent Edcomm a cease and desist letter in June.
She seeks punitive damages for identity theft, invasion of privacy and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Lanham Act.
Defendant Edcomm is wholly owned by a Saudi Arabian company, Sawabeh Information Services Co., according to the complaint. Also sued are Sandi Morgan of Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; Edcomm managing director Haitham Saead of Willow Grove, Pa.; Joseph Mellaci of Connecticut; Elizabeth Sweeney of Fort Washington, Pa.; Lisa Arnsperger of Fort Washington; and Qamar Zaman of Fort Washington. All are said to be Edcomm employees.
An Edcomm spokesman declined to comment.
Eagle’s attorneys said they tried to contact LinkedIn about the profile, with no success.
“It’s not easy to get LinkedIn to respond to stuff like this,” Lieberman said.