VIC Urgent Legal Advice Required around ownership of Facebook Group (potential injunction pending)

Discussion in 'Commercial Law Forum' started by AustraliaSocialMedia, 21 October 2017.

  1. AustraliaSocialMedia

    AustraliaSocialMedia Active Member

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    Questions: Who legally owns a Facebook Group?

    Context: In 2014 I created a Facebook group that was used to procure clients for my business.

    In 2016 I partnered with an individual to launch a company and gave the business access to that Facebook Group for the purpose of continuing to solicit clients. At this stage there were 16,000 members.

    The business partnership has now ceased with my business partner stating that I gave the Facebook Group to the business at the beginning of the partnership. This I did not do, however, there is no proof in writing either way.

    During the period of the business Facebook adverts went into promoting lead magnets that resulted in client generation and as a by product of these Facebook Adverts those who responded were also encouraged to join the group.

    The Facebook Group now stands at 24,000 members.

    My business partner is demanding that I give her access to the group and remove myself from the group entirely.

    Since the launch of this group I have poured a significant amount of time into this group which therefore means that there is a significant amount of goodwill around me and my name in this group and has always been the case leading to significant commercial success. This group has been my livelihood since 2014.

    I have always been the original creator of the group which Facebook acknowledges with creator status and the accompanying levels of protection around this.

    This Facebook Group was also never listed as a company asset within the businesses profit and loss accounts.

    My understanding:

    My understanding is that Facebook owns this group (and Facebook could close it down etc whenever they choose) and as a user of the Facebook platform Facebook has given me permission to create this group within the environment that is owned by them.

    I, however, do not “own” the list of members, this is owned by Facebook. On this basis, it is my belief that I would not be permitted to give this group over to a business entity as I am merely the creator not the owner.

    The other business owner has threatened an injunction to stop me posting within this group unless I completely hand over the group to her.

    I am seeking advice from an individual with experience in social media law and I am happy to pay for such a service.
     
  2. Rob Legat - SBPL

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    I don't have a lot of experience in social media law. However, my thoughts are:

    - Is this a company or a business? You use the terms interchangeably in terms of ownership, and they don't work that way.
    - The company/business partnership ("entity") does not 'own' the Facebook page, but I would suspect that the customer list/lead generation will at least form part of the goodwill - which the entity does own. If this is a sale/division scenario, then this should be represented in the balance sheet.
     
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  3. AustraliaSocialMedia

    AustraliaSocialMedia Active Member

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    Thank you for your swift reply.

    The entity is a company with an associated ABN.

    Just to clarify that this is a group not a page (but as I understand it this does not change meaning within your email).

    My understanding therefore is that:

    A) the email database derived from the Facebook Group is owned by the company “entity” as long as it is represented in the balance sheet.

    B) the entity does not own the group.

    Would this be correct?

    Thank you sincerely once again.
     
  4. Rob Legat - SBPL

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    You can't own a group of people, and as much as Facebook might like to they don't either. The group exists by liking a certain page, to my understanding - that's the tie between the company and the group.

    Whether you even have rights to the "email database" isn't assured, as you would need to consult Facebook's terms of use. Goodwill is more intangible than that. And it's not a case of "as long as it is represented in the balance sheet", the goodwill of any company is an asset and should be represented in the balance sheet. The determination of its value is a different issue.
     
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  5. AustraliaSocialMedia

    AustraliaSocialMedia Active Member

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    Thank you for this.

    One more question based upon the above if you don’t mind;

    “The group exists by liking a certain page, to my understanding- that's the tie between the company and the group”.

    The group exists by individuals requesting to join the Facebook Group. A Facebook group can only be created by an individual’s Facebook profile (and not by a business Facebook page). Therefore in individuals choosing to join the group - the tie is between the individuals joining the group and the creator of that group.

    Would that be correct?
     
  6. Rob Legat - SBPL

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    No, that's too simplistic. It implies the person joining the group is aware of the person who created it and joined because of who they are.

    It's possible that groups are more like unincorporated associations. People join because of a common interest, but the affiliation isn't its own legal entity.
     
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  7. AustraliaSocialMedia

    AustraliaSocialMedia Active Member

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    Got it.

    That makes perfect sense and so it goes back to a corporate entity cannot own a Facebook Group. Is that right? Just trying to clarify...

    .... from the research I have done there doesn’t seem to be legal clarity in this space but I am sure these issues will be on the rise!
     
  8. Rob Legat - SBPL

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    Pretty much.
     
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  9. Rod

    Rod Lawyer
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    I suspect the answer is in the detail around the setting up of the company. You may need a lawyer to look at any agreements and all correspondence relating to the establishment of the company. An indication of what was intended can also be implied from the actions of one or both of the parties.

    Don't think there is an easy answer to your question. The issue doesn't appear to be an 'ownership' issue per se as Facebook own the group and this seems more like a control issue.
     
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