A Twitter user is being sued for $340,000 by his former employer for taking his online followers with him when he switched jobs.
Noah Kravitz, a writer from Oakland, California, amassed 17,000 followers on the social networking site when he worked for PhoneDog, a website that provides news and reviews about mobile phones.
He posted Twitter messages under the name @Phonedog_Noah, but in October 2010 he left the company, renamed his account @noahkravitz and took his following with him.
PhoneDog has launched legal proceedings seeking damages of $2.50 a month per follower for eight months, for a total of $340,000. The company says Kravitz's followers are a customer database and the valuation is an estimate of how much each follower is worth to the company.
The case raises questions about the value of Twitter to companies that are increasingly using the website to communicate with customers and promote their products. Legal observers believe that if damages are awarded against Kravitz, it could set a precedent for assigning a commercial value to Twitter followers.
Kravitz told the New York Times that PhoneDog had agreed that he could keep the followers as long as he tweeted on the firm's behalf from time to time, and claimed the lawsuit was retaliation for his own claim for a share of revenue.
As Jessica Godell of Partridge, a Chicago law firm specialising in intellectual property, asks in an article: "What is the economic value (of) tweets such as 'Why does the bathroom smell like licorice?' for a business like PhoneDog?"
The jury will shortly be in. Watch this space.