Court: Facebook Likes Are Not Property

By David Cohen 

LikeStickersMain650Facebook likes can be viewed any number of ways, but according to a federal court judge in Florida, they cannot be considered property. That declaration was part of the ruling in a lawsuit filed against BET by insurance agent Stacey Mattocks over a fan page for The Game, a series on the cable network.

As reported by The Hollywood Reporter’s Hollywood, Esq. blog in July 2013, Mattocks created a fan page for The Game in 2008, when the series was running on another television network, The CW, and BET revived the series in January 2011, at which point Mattocks’ fan page had 750,000 likes and was growing at some 100,000 likes per week.

Mattocks claimed that BET agreed to pay her $30 per hour to work as a social media freelancer, and the cable network offered her a contract Dec. 15, 2010, that would have paid her $85,000 over a one-year period, but required her to surrender all of her rights to the page. However, the contract could have been terminated at any point, without cause, so she declined the offer.

BET then created its own Facebook page for The Game in December 2011, and offered Mattocks $15,000 for her rights to her Facebook page and Twitter account, which she responded to with a counteroffer of $1.2 million, she told Hollywood, Esq. at the time.

BET then offered her a three-year pact to become a “social media specialist” for its scripted programming, according to Mattocks, paying her $4,166.66 per month, capped at $50,000, which she rejected, following that up by changing the cable network’s administrative access to the page from “manager” to “moderator.”

Finally, in August 2012, Mattocks said BET sent her a letter terminating their agreement and rescinding her rights to the cable network’s intellectual property, and she claimed that BET had Facebook remove her page, which had reached 6.2 million likes.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge James Cohn Wednesday was not favorable to Mattocks, according to Hollywood, Esq., reading:

Based on the record, Mattocks cannot establish that she owns a property interest in the likes on the Facebook page. Liking a Facebook page simply means that the user is expressing his or her enjoyment or approval of the content. At any time, moreover, the user is free to revoke the like by clicking an unlike button. So if anyone can be deemed to own the likes on a page, it is the individual users responsible for them. Given the tenuous relationship between likes on a Facebook page and the creator of the page, the likes cannot be converted in the same manner as goodwill or other intangible business interests.

While BET may also have had other financial motives in disabling the page and Twitter account, no record evidence shows that BET took these steps for purely malicious reasons. And though Mattocks claims that BET removed the page and account “under false pretenses,” she has produced no substantial evidence that Facebook’s and Twitter’s decisions to shut down the services were ultimately based on anything other than the companies’ policies protecting brand owners’ rights.

Readers: What did you think of Cohn’s ruling?