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Bitter on Twitter: Newspaper sues ex-staffer over account

RICHMOND, Va. – The Roanoke Times is asking a judge to force former Times sports reporter Andy Bitter to give up his use of a Twitter account.

The owner of the paper has sued in Roanoke federal court claiming it is the rightful owner of the account that carries the handle @AndyBitterVT. Bitter covered Virginia Tech sports from 2011 until last month. He now tweets about his work for a competitor.

The paper seeks damages and a permanent injunction barring Bitter’s use of the account.

BH Media Group Inc. – owner of the paper – says Bitter refused to relinquish the Twitter account, now boasting 27,200 followers, when he left the paper July 6. In fact, as of Aug. 7, the day after the suit was filed, Bitter was using the account to urge readers to subscribe to his new employer’s publication, the online sports site The Athletic.

The lawsuit claims Bitter ignored a cease-and-desist letter sent July 11.

Bitter “is actively engaging in competing with BH Media for its own customers, and is using BH Media assets to accomplish that goal,” the company claimed in one court filing.

BH Media contends the account originally was created on-the-job by a Virginian-Pilot reporter who covered Virginia Tech sports. Bitter was provided with the login information in 2011, but later updated the user name and password, the company said. Eventually, the account came to be licensed to the Times, the suit said.

A Twitter account is more than just a platform to talk to a mass of followers, the suit says. By following other Twitter users, the account manager enjoys a unique Twitter feed offering “invaluable insight” into readers’ interests and general trends. The manager also gets the exclusive right to “direct message” his followers, allowing sharing of private messages and information not publically available.

The non-public account information was developed “through many years of substantial time, effort, expense, research, and communication with its users,” BH Media said. To recreate the account would take seven years and cost at least $150,000, the company claimed. BH Media contends its loss exceeds $5,000 a year.

The lawsuit accuses Bitter of misappropriation under federal and state trade secrets law. There are seven counts in total. BH Media also seeks a preliminary injunction to halt Bitter’s use of the account.

“Defendant’s usurpation of the Account is causing irreparable harm in an amount that cannot be quantified. Any effort to create a new account similar to the Account in question would not net 27,100 followers for many years, if ever,” BH Media lawyers said in a brief.

The lawsuit has been assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski.

Bitter did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. It was not clear if he was represented by counsel.

BH Media is represented by attorneys at the Richmond office of Williams Mullen.


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