A media publisher has accused a former employee of stealing trade secrets by continuing to use a Twitter account owned by the company.
BH Media Group, which owns and operates 31 daily newspapers in the US, filed its complaint against Andy Bitter at the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia on Monday, August 6.
In 2010, The Virginian-Pilot newspaper created a Twitter account which was eventually licensed to The Roanoke Times. At the time, both newspapers were owned by publishing house Landmark Media Enterprises before BH Media acquired The Roanoke Times and the Twitter account in 2013.
BH Media is now the sole owner of the Twitter account.
One of Bitter’s responsibilities during his employment was to be the sole manager of the Twitter account.
According to the complaint, Bitter updated the account’s login information including the user name and password. The claim explained that the account’s manager has access to unique and private information, including direct messages.
BH Media alleged that the account and the access to this exclusive information constitute the company’s trade secrets.
“The trade secrets are not known by the public or BH Media’s direct competitors, and would be extremely valuable to them,” said BH Media.
Upon Bitter’s resignation, which was effective as of July 6, 2018, BH Media reminded him that the group owned the account and that he must hand over the login information and trade secrets associated with the account.
Despite allegedly signing a handbook that said he acknowledged BH Media’s ownership of the account, Bitter refused to relinquish the account, the publisher claimed.
BH Media claimed that Bitter continues to use the account, which is still in the name of BH Media, and its trade secrets to communicate with BH Media’s followers to promote his current employer, US-based online publication The Athletic.
According to BH Media, Bitter pinned a tweet onto the account highlighting his move to The Athletic and, by doing so, he was directing over 27,000 of the account’s followers to The Athletic.
“Thus, defendant has essentially taken BH Media’s curated customer list (or at worst list of potential targets) to use for direct marketing on behalf of a direct competitor,” said BH Media.
The media group added that it would take an employee seven years and $150,000 to attempt to recreate the account.
BH Media is seeking a permanent injunction blocking Bitter from accessing the account, and damages.