BET Stole My Facebook “Likes”: Florida Court Rules On The Issue
BET Stole My “Likes”
In 2008, Stacey Mattocks created a Facebook fan page for the television show, “The Game.” Following “The Game’s” cancellation in 2009, Stacey commenced a social media campaign to revive the series. She succeeded. BET eventually picked up the show – no doubt, being persuaded by the fan pages’ 2 million followers (“Likes”). 
In 2010, instead of creating their own Facebook fan page for the series, BET contacted Mattocks and offered her $30 an hour to continue managing her Facebook fan page for BET’s, “The Game.” BET provided Mattocks with exclusive content for the Facebook page and actively participated in curating content for it. As the page creator, Mattocks posted most of the content to the fan page but BET employees also occasionally posted material.
The arrangement between BET and Mattocks seemed to be a success; during the course of her employment with BET, Mattocks grew the fan page’s “Likes” from 2 million to 6 million. And in February of 2011, Mattocks and BET entered into a letter agreement wherein Mattocks granted BET full access to the page and in exchange, BET agreed not to exclude Mattocks from the page by changing her administrative rights. But the loose working arrangement also paved the way for a legal battle on the question of who owns the Facebook fan page, BET or Stacey Mattocks? And more generally, how do you measure ownership in the social media context?
Probably as an attempt to avoid litigating the issue, BET offered to buy the page from Mattocks for $15,000. But Mattocks rejected BET’s proposal as too low, and sought $1.2 million for her page instead. After negotiations soured, Mattocks violated the terms of The Letter Agreement and restricted BET’s access to the Facebook page.
As a result, Mattocks brought an action against BET effectively claiming, amongst other things, that BET stole her “Likes.” 
Mattocks claimed that the substantial interest in the Facebook page and its significant number of “Likes” provided her with business opportunities with companies that pay her for re-directing visitors to their sites. She further claimed that BET willfully deprived her of these opportunities when it asked Facebook to transfer the page “Likes” to the page BET had created.
Facebook “Likes” Cannot Be the Subject of an Action for Unlawful Conversion
Under Florida law, conversion is an unauthorized act, which deprives the owner of his property permanently or for an indefinite time. To succeed, Mattocks had to first establish that she owned the subject property, the fan page’s “Likes,” and second, that BET wrongfully asserted dominion over that property by transferring the page’s “Likes” to their own page.
But there can be no conversion without property ownership (putting it simply, someone cannot steal something that you do not own from you) – and the Judge’s decision that Mattocks did not own a property interest in the fan page’s “Likes” was fatal to Mattock’s conversion claim.
Judge Cohn explained:
“Liking a Facebook page simply means that the user is expressing his or her enjoyment or approval of the content. So if anyone is deemed to own the ‘likes’ on a page it is the users who are 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.”
Judge Cohn’s ruling is bad news for page creators and social media marketers
Was the court’s evaluation of a “Like” proper? After all, if likes were not valuable as property then why did BET opt to capitalize on Mattocks’ established fan page instead of creating their own? Furthermore, if the likes were not valuable as property then why did BET request that Facebook transfer the 6 million likes to their new page?
The fan page’s “likes” are a symbol of Stacey’s labor, in that they represent the result of her marketing efforts. In the same way that a farmer takes seeds, plants them, and then sells the crops that eventually grow, Stacey created the page, managed the content, and amassed some 6 million fans (“Likes”). Why should the farmer be able to own and sell his crops, but Stacey be deprived of the same rights? Maybe the answer is because it is easier to calculate the value of the farmer’s crops than it would be for the court to calculate the value of a fan page’s “Likes.”
One thing is for sure, as social media and business continue to intersect, the effects of this case will continue to be felt. Page creators beware – just because you bought them or worked for them, that does not mean you own the “Likes” on your page.
 Mattock’s claims: 1) BET tortuously interfered with her contractual relationship with Facebook, that 2) BET had violated the terms of the letter agreement, that 3) BET breached it’s duty of good faith and fair dealing, and that 4) BET converted a business interest she held in the Facebook page.