Who owns LinkedIn connections? The Employer or the employee?

The High Court in Clayton Recruitment Ltd v Wilson & Anor [2022] recently considered who owned LinkedIn connections as part of a costs application. 

James Wilson (the Defendant) had been employed by a legal recruitment agency for several years and he left his employer to start his own recruitment agency.

At that time he had about 3,500 connections. Some of them were personal but most of them were connections he had made in the course of his employment. 

Clayton Recruitment Ltd were justifiably sensitive about Mr Wilson  maintaining his LinkedIn connections They, or a very large part of them, were connections which Clayton Recruitment  was entitled to protect under its contract. They asked him to hand over his LinkedIn password but he refused saying, rightly, that it was in breach of LinkedIn’s terms and conditions.

However, Mr Wilson then used his LinkedIn connections to announce the launch of his new legal recruitment agency. Shortly afterwards, solicitors for Clayton Recruitment wrote a letter before action to Mr Wilson making certain demands. When he refused to accede to these demands, some of which the judge said were “over extensive ” they issued proceedings and applied for an injunction. 

The judge said that Clayton Recruitment were justifiably concerned that those connections would be used by Mr Wilson to compete with them and that this was in breach of his employment contract. 

In addition to the employment contract there were other contractual arrangements related to the employee handbook which dealt with LinkedIn, such as this which was signed by Mr Wilson.

“Whilst employed at The Clayton Group I acknowledge Clayton Recruitment Ltd has ownership of all connections made on my Linkedln account. I further acknowledge that Clayton Recruitment Ltd have the right to remove the connections I have made whilst at the company by any means necessary.”

In effect, this meant that his employer owned LinkedIn connections made in the course of his employment and the contract clearly provided for their deletion.

It’s an interesting judgement for all sorts of reasons. Neither part won on costs which were apportioned with Clayton Recruitment Limited being entitled to recover 55% of their costs. Before the costs hearing, their costs were £31,173. Mr Wilson was ordered to pay them £13,750 with each party paying for their own costs of this hearing.

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