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Mattocks v. Black Entertainment Television LLC

District court grants defendant BET summary judgment in suit brought by creator of Facebook Fan Page that promoted BET television program The Game, concluding that BET had neither breached its contract with plaintiff nor interfered with plaintiff's alleged property interests in user "likes" on Facebook page.

In 2008, plaintiff Stacy Mattocks created an unofficial Facebook Fan Page for the television series The Game, a dramatic comedy portraying professional football players and their wives and girlfriends. Defendant Black Entertainment Television (BET) acquired syndication rights to The Game from the CW Network in 2009, and in 2011 it acquired the rights to produce new episodes of The Game. BET contacted Mattocks to perform part-time work managing and adding BET-provided and approved content to her Facebook Fan Page for The Game. BET allowed Mattocks to post proprietary content, trademarks, and logos to her Fan Page and directed users to “like” Mattocks’ Fan Page.

BET and Mattocks entered into a letter agreement in 2011, in which BET agreed not to exclude Mattocks from the Fan Page and Mattocks granted BET administrative access to the page, allowing BET full access to update the content at its discretion. A year later, while negotiating a full-time position with BET, Mattocks demoted BET’s administrative access to the page. BET responded by terminating Mattocks’ license to use BET’s intellectual property and asking Facebook to migrate the “likes” on Mattocks’ Fan Page to BET’s official Facebook page for The Game. Facebook and Twitter complied, disabling Mattocks’ Fan Page and Twitter according to their policies protecting brand owners’ rights.

Mattocks sued BET for tortious interference with her contracts with Facebook and Twitter, as well as for breach of the letter agreement, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and conversion of the “likes” Mattocks had acquired on the Facebook Fan Page. BET moved for summary judgment.

The court granted BET’s motion for summary judgment in its entirety. First, the court held that BET could not have tortiously interfered with Mattocks’ user agreements with Facebook and Twitter because BET, as Mattocks’ employer and manager of the Fan Page and Twitter account, had a beneficial supervisory interest in the accounts and in the use of its intellectual property. Second, BET could not be liable for breach of the letter agreement or of the duty of good faith and fair dealing because Mattocks had first materially breached the letter agreement by disabling BET’s access. Finally, the court held that Mattocks’ conversion claim failed because Mattocks failed to establish that she owned any property interest in the “likes” she accumulated on her Fan Page. Facebook “likes,” the court noted, are merely an expression by a Facebook user that he or she enjoys or approves of the content. Such “likes,” once given by a user, may be freely revoked if the user clicks “unlike.” Because the owner, if any, of a “like” is the individual user and not the creator of the Facebook page, Mattocks lacked a proprietary interest in the “likes” and BET therefore could not have converged them from Mattocks.