BET Lawsuit Raises The Question: Who Owns A Facebook Fan Page?

A lawsuit against BET by a fan of one of its shows tests the legal waters for copyrights and content.

The Hollywood Reporter got an exclusive this week: BET is being sued by a fan of one of its shows, The Game, over a Facebook fan page.

Stacey Mattocks was an avid viewer of the hit show The Game back in the days when it was on The CW. It has since been cancelled by that network and picked up by BET.

In 2008, Mattocks created a Facebook fan page that went on to reach 750,000 “likes” by the time BET decided to bring the show back to life. With Mattocks building buzz for the program in the lead up to its January 2011 re-debut, The Game premiered on BET with 7.7 million viewers, the second highest number in the network’s history. The Facebook page, at one point, was gaining 100,000 “likes” per week.

“Therefore, on December 15, 2010, BET submitted a proposed contract to Mattocks that would have paid her a maximum of $85,000.00 over a one year period,” the lawsuit claims. “Mattocks declined this offer because it was unreasonably low, would have stripped her of all rights to the FB Page, and, moreover, could have been terminated at any point by BET, with or without cause.”

After maintaining it for years, Mattocks’ Facebook page for The Game had 3.3 million fans.

Of course, BET ideally wanted the rights to this successful page. But Mattocks knew the value of what she created. BET even tried to launch its own page. That fan page went nowhere. BET eventually offered Mattocks a social media job with the company with a cap of $50,000 over the course of three years. She asked for $1.2 million.

Long story short, there’s been a lot of back and forth between both sides, culminating in a call in August 2012 from BET to Facebook to shut down Mattocks’  page. At that point, it had 6.2 million fans. Right now, The Game on BET Facebook page has 6.5 million likes.

So now Mattocks is suing claiming a ton of damages, including lost income and breach of good faith. THR writes:

The lawsuit obviously raises several great legal questions, including what might constitute a work-for-hire in the social media context, whether creative elements put online constitute derivatives of a show or are independently copyrightable, whether networks can grab control over fan-produced social media assets at any time, whether there’s any interference that might come from disrupting online advertising relationships and much, much more!

The courts will have to deal with the legal questions. But from a PR standpoint, it looks like BET didn’t take the power of Mattocks’ Facebook page into account when they decided to bring the show back. Nowadays, when a company or brand launches anything, it needs to take a look at which Facebook pages, Twitter handle, Instagram accounts, etc. have already been taken so they can launch their own. And, as in the case, if there are any existing pages, particularly successful ones, the brand needs to be forthright in talking with the owners of those pages about how they can work together.

We’ll also say that, if all the figures quoted in the lawsuit are accurate, BET did seem to low ball Mattocks on the money and job offers they made. Obviously, the show and this Facebook page were of greater value to them than the dollar amount they were putting out there.

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