Ferrari hit with lawsuit for taking over Facebook fan page

You don’t need a marketing degree to know that using social media is an important part of building any type of brand these days. And the growing value of fan websites and fan pages on Facebook appears to be leading to increased legal disputes over who controls them.

The latest example is from Italian sports car manufacturer Ferrari. Last week, a Swiss father and son sued Facebook and Ferrari after control of their popular Ferrari fan page was taken away from them. In their lawsuit (PDF), Olivier and Sammy Wasem claim that they controlled “by far the most popular Facebook pages for Ferrari enthusiasts”, which they created in 2008. The lawsuit describes Sammy Wasem as an aspiring Ferrari driver. Formula 1 whose “passion for racing and Ferrari brought together many other fans.” In 2009, Wasem’s Ferrari page had over 500,000 fans.

In February of the same year, Olivier Wasem received an e-mail from a Ferrari employee stating that “legal problems force us to [Ferrari] taking over the official administration of the “Ferrari fan page”. The same employee promised “to preserve and even improve your role in Ferrari’s web presence and communities”.

The lawsuit claims that Ferrari’s e-commerce manager confirmed the partnership, writing in a separate email that “Your page could become the official Ferrari page and you could work with us to manage it.”

He goes on to describe how Wasem and Ferrari actually collaborated on the page from 2009 to 2012, when the page had an estimated nine million fans. A separate Formula 1 page had around 200,000 fans. An online study claimed that Ferrari “puts the company far ahead of any other automaker in terms of Facebook engagement,” the complaint notes.

In their lawsuit, the Wasems claim that Ferrari, aided and abetted by Facebook, breached a contract with the Wasems. The deal they reached in 2009 never included handing over control of the page, they claim. The page’s value has increased and Ferrari’s Facebook page now has over 16 million fans.

“Ferrari wanted it,” the Wasems say in their complaint. “So with Facebook’s knowledge and substantial help, Ferrari took it on, and they both benefited from what the Wasems created.”

No warning

On July 31, 2012, the Wasems were informed that they had been demoted from co-administrators to “content creators”. The same day Olivier wrote to Ferrari employee Claudio Russo asking to be reinstated.

They could not agree and their dispute was taken to court. The California lawsuit filed last week is not the first. The Wasems took their first legal action against Ferrari in February 2013 in a Swiss court. “Four days later, in apparent retaliation, Ferrari alleged in proceedings in Italy that the Wasems had infringed the company’s trademark rights, even though… [Ferrari] expressly asked the Wasems to use the Ferrari logo.”

That same month, the Wasems also lost access to their Formula 1 page. Even their lesser “content creator” status was revoked. According to the complaint, Sammy Wasem even lost access to his own fan page (as an aspiring Formula 1 driver), “which had no connection to Ferrari”.

The Wasems sent a certified letter to Facebook explaining their predicament, and then the story gets weirder. A Facebook lawyer called Wasems’ lawyer, explaining that the Formula 1 page and Sammy’s personal page “had been taken over by hackers”. Rights to these pages were restored on February 28, 2013.

It didn’t last long. Two months later, Ferrari complained that the Formula 1 page had violated its intellectual property rights and Facebook deactivated it again.

Another section of the lawsuit emphasizes the value of Facebook fan pages, citing “an independent study published in 2013” claiming that an individual Facebook “fan” is worth $174 to a brand owner and “up to over $1,000 per fan for luxury auto companies.” .”

The lawsuit demands “no less than Wasems’ share (at least 50%) of the value of the Ferrari fan page and the Formula 1 page, again citing figures from $174 to “over $1,000 A valuation of $1,000 per fan would suggest Ferrari’s Facebook page is now worth $16 billion and the Wasems are also asking to be reinstated as co-admins of the page.

Facebook has not commented on the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday and first reported by Bloomberg Friday.

Backdoor influence

The Ferrari case isn’t the only one where a popular fan website has become the center of acrimony. Earlier this year, Ikea became embroiled in a legal battle when it sought to take over

In some respects, the Wasems case follows the contours of Mattocks v. Black Entertainment Televisionin which Stacey Mattocks created a Facebook fan page for the BET show The game in 2008. BET hired Mattocks, paid her, and made her page the official page. When she later disabled BET’s access while they were discussing a full-time job, BET created her own page and asked Facebook to “migrate” fans to her own page, which she did.

Mattocks sued for breach of contract, claiming she had a stake in all Facebook likes on the page. Her lawsuit failed, however, and the court determined that she gave BET ownership of the page when she came on board as an employee. This is not a good precedent for the Wasems.

“The case illustrates how difficult it is for the aggrieved entrepreneur whose influence on social media would have been misused by a brand or an employer,” wrote legal blogger Venkat Balasubramani.

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