Who 'owns' a Facebook page?

High Court rules that Facebook Inc does; the person who sets up the page only owns the page's contents

Setting up a Facebook page does not give a person any "ownership" over the site.

Instead, the page belongs to Facebook Inc, ruled the High Court on Tuesday in a unique case involving a Singaporean content producer and Indonesian-Chinese billionaire Frank Cintamani.

In 2010, 39-year-old Lee Kien Meng, whose company Senatus provides digital media services, was hired by Mr Cintamani, 41, to promote the 2011 Men's Fashion Week and Women's Fashion Week.

The Singapore events, run by Mr Cintamani through his companies including Fide Multimedia, is meant to showcase Asian fashion labels and help the country position itself as a global fashion centre.

But after Mr Lee set up Facebook promotional sites for the two events, he fell out with Mr Cintamani. Believing that Mr Lee was behind a series of hacking incidents involving the pages, the billionaire removed him as an administrator.

When Mr Cintamani refused his request to hand over the pages, Mr Lee sued him in 2012.

He asked the court to declare him the owner and sole administrator of the two pages and to order Mr Cintamani to give up all rights to the pages to him.

He also claimed to have suffered losses after Mr Cintamani deactivated the pages, and wanted $250,000 in damages.

Mr Lee, after losing his case, appealed.

His lawyer, Mr Jeffrey Beh, argued that whoever creates a Facebook page should be recognised as its owner.

He also claimed that in e-mail exchanges, Mr Cintamani agreed to Mr Lee's request to hand over the pages, but later reneged.

Mr Cintamani's lawyer, Mr Derek Kang, argued that after the falling out, Mr Lee was no longer involved with the events and so was no longer authorised to administer the pages.

During the appeal, the court asked financial disputes lawyer Lionel Leo, from Wong Partnership, to give his independent view.

Mr Leo agreed with district judge Chiah Kok Khun, who had dismissed the case in the first instance.

Mr Leo said that while administrators can edit pages, add applications and delete comments, these are not ownership rights but privileges granted by Facebook Inc.

Justice Chan Seng Onn on Tuesday upheld the lower court's decision, pointing out there are no terms in Facebook's service agreement which gives the page creator ownership rights.

Under the agreement, which all Facebook users have to sign up to, users simply "own" the content they post, but Facebook Inc owns the pages and has the power to remove them for any reason.

In this case, Justice Chan noted, Mr Lee did not claim for the contents.

He also dismissed Mr Lee's claim that an implied agreement with Mr Cintamani gave him an irrevocable right to administer the pages.

Justice Chan said he was unable to conclude from e-mail that Mr Cintamani had agreed to reinstate Mr Lee as administrator and transfer control to him.

selinal@sph.com.sg