Court rules personal WeChat account not employer property

2024-03-25 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

A court in Hunan province has ruled that a personal WeChat account used for work purposes is not considered the property of an employer, highlighting the growing recognition of WeChat accounts as virtual assets.

The case centered on whether an employee, upon resignation, is obligated to return a personal WeChat account used for business purposes.

The dispute arose from a partnership agreement between Peng, Tan, and Yu for operating a tattoo shop. The contract, with a five-year term, stipulated that customer WeChat contacts should be transferred to the shop upon an employee's departure if an official work account wasn't provided.

Tan used his personal WeChat account for promotions, customer outreach, and client management for the tattoo shop during his employment.

In March 2023, Tan withdrew from the shop and transferred customer contacts from his personal WeChat account to the remaining partners. However, Peng later discovered Tan promoting his own tattoo services and accepting inquiries via his WeChat, leading to a lawsuit.

Peng sought a court order for Tan to return his personal WeChat account to the shop.

The court, following a review, categorized the case as a contractual dispute, focusing on whether Tan was required to return his personal WeChat account.

The court emphasized the "WeChat Personal Account Usage Regulations" issued by the platform, which state that ownership of WeChat accounts belongs to the platform itself. Users, upon registration, only obtain the right to use the account, and this right is exclusive to the initial registrant.

In this instance, Tan registered his WeChat account with his personal phone number and maintained control over its use. While it functioned as a work account during his employment, the court noted that customer resources from the tattoo shop had already been transferred upon his departure.

Therefore, the court ruled in favor of Tan, declaring Peng's claim for the WeChat account to lack legal basis. The court determined that Tan's continued use of his personal account did not cause customer loss for Peng, ultimately safeguarding Tan's property rights over his personal account.

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