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How would one establish legal ownership of intangible property that is under technical control of a owner, employee or 3rd party?

Examples:

  1. Domain name: The email address for the account at the registrar typically belongs to an individual.
  2. Facebook page: Facebook requires that the administrator of a page be an individual. This individual has complete control of the page and is effectively the owner.
  3. Any other accounts on 3rd party services that require registration by an individual.

Followup Question

What would be the preferred way set up and manage accounts owned by the business for accounts on services that require they be attached to an individual; or what stackexchange should I direct this question to?

Goal:

The goal is to prevent a rogue admin from hijacking the intangible property, and getting away with it (business has no legal recourse).

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As the saying goes, possession is nine-tenths of the law (Wikipedia).

Just about any web-based property is owned by the person (or company) who owns the email address that allows access to that property. Email addressees are owned by the person who controls the access to the email account at the email provider, i.e. the login and password. (For simplicity, I'm ignoring the fact that the individual's listed name on the email account can come into play in ownership disputes).

A Facebook page is owned by the owner of the administrative email for the account at that service. A domain is owned by the domain registrant, who opens an account at a domain registrar with an email and registers the domain. The domain registrant administers the ownership of the domain via an administrative email, and that email owned by the person who has the access to that email account.

Very basically, in your situation, if you want to "establish legal ownership" of a web property owned and/or administered by someone else, you determine if there is a contract in place (written or verbal) that established your partial ownership to the property, or an agreement to transfer full ownership of the property to you at some point. See Elements of a Contract — Judicial Education Center.

If there is an agreement or contract to transfer full ownership to you, execute the contract. Have everyone sign off on it and do the technical transfer of the property, i.e. change ownership and access of the email account associated with the property.

If there is an agreement or contract that you have partial ownership and you want full ownership, you attempt to renegotiate the contract, if both parties agree to renegotiate. Or you go to court and let a court decide the status of the contract.

If there isn't an contract and/or agreement in place regarding your current partial or future ownership of the property, you're out of luck. Whoever owns the property owns it.

You can go to court alleging something, like breach of contract, or you deserve the property (such as a domain or email address or Facebook page) because it's the same as your business name, but that's your choice.

Further, in particular to domain names, there is also a dispute resolution process Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy - ICANN that seeks to resolve trademark-based domain-name disputes, which may or not be relevant in your question, which is primarily about ownership. Facebook also has a trademark-based domain-name dispute resolution process.

  • When it comes to something like a Facebook page, transferring ownership still has the same dilemma. A person is still the effective owner of the page, not the business. It is not possible to transfer technical ownership to the business, merely another person representing the business... which leads to the same problem? – Brett Allen Jun 15 '18 at 15:54
  • Does a transfer of ownership require immediate transfer, or could be it be signed and then only invoked when certain conditions are met? (Termination of employment for example) – Brett Allen Jun 15 '18 at 15:58
  • For FB, is this a dispute over a trademark or business name used on the Facebook page? Or simply a dispute about who owns the business and who is a employee of the business and who gets to own the FB page? Any possible "transfer of ownership" comes after you determine who owns the property. – BlueDogRanch Jun 15 '18 at 16:03
  • For this example, the owner of the Facebook page is an employee of the business. How would we ensure it gets transferred to someone else if that employee were terminated. This question arose out of curiosity, as the real life scenario this is based on, we solved the problem by assigning ownership to the business in the Operating Agreement as the owner of the page is a member. That wouldn't work in the case of an employee. – Brett Allen Jun 15 '18 at 16:15
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    "How would we ensure it gets transferred to someone else if that employee were terminated." Contract with the employee. Or admin the FB page with an email account also accessible by management. – BlueDogRanch Jun 15 '18 at 17:23

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