Acquiring a business? How to 'transfer' social media accounts

By Miriam Stiel
Consumer law Industrials Intellectual Property Litigation Mergers & Acquisitions Patents & Trade Marks

In brief

Our IP team frequently assists with the sale or purchase of a business, advising on the scope of relevant IP to be transferred and how to transfer that IP. These days, businesses often have a number of social media accounts – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc – and the purchaser will wish to take ownership of those accounts. How can it be done? Senior Associate Kimberley Evans explains.

What do the relevant Terms and Conditions say?

A common question is: how does one actually 'transfer' ownership of a social media account? The short answer (which features quite often in IP advice) is: It depends.

Here is a brief summary (as of 1 June 2018):

Social media
Can it be transferred?

YouTube channels

Yes, if the YouTube channel is linked to a Brand Account (see YouTube's support page). The owner of the Brand Account signs into the YouTube Brand Account and can select 'Transfer ownership' through Settings.

If the YouTube channel is not linked to a Brand Account, ownership cannot be transferred.

Instagram accounts

Instagram's Terms of Use prohibit a user from selling, transferring, licensing or assigning their account, followers, username or any account rights.

The Terms of Use further state that 'You cannot transfer your rights or obligations under this agreement without our consent.' Violating the Terms of Use can result in Instagram terminating the account.

Facebook Pages

Facebook Pages are controlled by 'administrators' (as opposed to accounts/profiles, which are controlled by 'users'). Changing administrators of a Facebook page effectively results in a 'transfer' of the account and is a relatively simple process, described in Facebook's Help Centre.

While Pages can be transferred by changing administrators, Facebook's Terms of Service state in 'Your commitments to Facebook and our community' that users may not transfer their accounts to another person without permission from Facebook.

Twitter accounts

Twitter's Terms of Service remain silent on the transfer of Twitter accounts.

However, the Twitter Rules, which form part of the Terms of Service, expressly prohibit the buying and selling of usernames.

There are suggestions on Twitter's community page about how to transfer control of a Twitter account (eg by changing the password for the account to something temporary, so the new owner can log in and update the account details to associate it with a new email address). However, given the ambiguity, there may be a cancellation risk.

LinkedIn Company Pages

LinkedIn's User Agreement states that a user agrees not to transfer any part of their account (including connections and groups). If you breach the User Agreement, LinkedIn has the right to terminate your account.

However, transferring a Company Page only involves changing administrators of the Page, which LinkedIn explains.

What should you do?

With the exception of YouTube, there is a common trend among the various social media terms of service or user agreements that accounts cannot be transferred. If an account is 'transferred', the account may be terminated by the service provider. However, a social media following can be very important for a business, and you wouldn't want to lose it because of a sale. When drafting a sale agreement, it is worthwhile considering whether it may be more appropriate to include an obligation on the vendor to provide the purchaser with access to operate the relevant social media account by updating the details, rather than requiring the account to be assigned. However, for abundance of caution, it may be best to seek consent from the social media platform to a transfer of an account.