The case of the “stolen” Twitter followers may or may not have merit, but its claims passed a second litmus test this week.
In the matter of PhoneDog versus Noah Kravitz, a U.S. district court judge ruled to allow the plaintiff, mobile review site PhoneDog, to move forward its suit against former employee Noah Kravitz with amended claims.
Kravitz, currently the editor-at-large at TechnoBuffalo, is being sued for allegedly misappropriating trade secrets by changing the password and name of a Twitter account he used while employed by PhoneDog. Kravitz accrued 17,000 followers while working for PhoneDog and the company believes those followers are “akin to a business customer list.” As such, PhoneDog is asking for $340,000, at a valuation of $2.50 per follower per month, in damages.
In November, a judge dismissed two of PhoneDog’s four claims, but the company responded by amending its claims. Kravitz then sought to have the claims dismissed again, but Monday a judge denied Kravitz’s motion to dismiss.
“I understand the judge’s ruling. It doesn’t change my perspective on the matter, and I’m still hoping for a swift and reasonable resolution of the dispute,” Kravitz said to VentureBeat in an interview by phone. “I hope to not take up very much more of the court’s, or anybody else’s, resources on this matter.”
Specially, the judge ruled that PhoneDog properly alleged that “intentional interference with prospective economic advantage” by Kravitz could have taken place. “The Court is able to draw the reasonable inference that PhoneDog had an economic relationship with at least one third-party advertiser that was disrupted by Kravitz’s alleged conduct, causing it economic harm,” judge Maria-Elena James stated in her ruling.
“It’s important to remember that there has been no determination about the merits of the case whatsoever,” Kravitz’s lawyer Cary Kletter told VentureBeat. “What this ruling means is … that we attempted to get portions of the case thrown out, but the claims were not so bad that they should be thrown out.”
“No decision has been made on who owns this Twitter account … no one has submitted any evidence,” Kletter added, calling PhoneDog’s valuation of the followers to the Twitter account “illogical.” “We remain confident that [PhoneDog] will not be able to prove that it has an economic relationship with each one of its Twitter followers … we think that [PhoneDog] will not prevail on its claims.”
“We are pleased with the court’s ruling and look forward to proceeding with our case,” a PhoneDog representative said in a statement to VentureBeat. “PhoneDog will continue to take the steps necessary to protect its intellectual property rights.”
Following the latest ruling, parties will move forward to the meditation stage of the case. VentureBeat will be following developments closely.
Depending on the case’s outcome, the California federal court could be the first to set a significant legal precedent around Twitter account ownership and the monetary value assigned to a Twitter follower.
This post was updated with a statement from PhoneDog.
Photo credit: ilse/Flickr