A Swiss father and his son who gained millions of Facebook Inc. followers through their Ferrari S.p.A. fan pages sued the social media company and the carmaker claiming they teamed up to illegally seize control of the websites.
The lawsuit filed in California state court follows earlier legal spats in Europe between Olivier and Sammy Wasem and the sports car company over their “Ferrari Fan Page” and a separate “Formula 1 Vision” page.
“Ferrari wanted it,” the Wasems said in a complaint filed Oct. 14 in San Mateo County Superior Court. “So, with Facebook’s knowledge and substantial assistance, Ferrari took it.”
The Wasems claim that after their page debuted in June 2008, Ferrari created its own page that wasn’t as popular, prompting the company to ask Facebook to give it administrative control over the Ferrari Fan Page. In March 2009 the sports car company contacted the Wasems and said “legal issues” had forced it to take over administration of their page, they said.
After the Ferrari co-administrator was added without permission from the Wasems, the company began to negotiate with them about a partnership to manage the fan page and create a Formula 1 page, according to the complaint. In 2012, the Wasems said, Facebook notified them that they had been downgraded to content creators, and the social networking company cut off their access entirely to both fan pages last year.
When their attorney complained in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and demanded that the Wasems be reinstated, they were told by a company attorney that the Formula 1 page had been taken over by hackers and their rights were restored.
After Ferrari complained to Facebook that the Formula 1 page violated its intellectual property rights, Facebook deactivated the page and migrated all its fans to a similar page under Ferrari’s control, according to the complaint.
The Wasems, who live in Geneva and say they “spent countless hours adding content” and managing the fan sites, seek at least half the value of the two pages they created, which they say have attracted more than 16 million fans and may be worth anywhere from $174 to more than $1,000 per fan in advertising.
Facebook’s rules state that users can make fan pages about brands as long as they don’t claim to speak for the company and “make clear that the page is not the official page of the brand.” Official brand pages must be administered by an authorized representative of the company.
Sammy Wasem, an amateur racecar driver, and his father previously filed a criminal complaint against Ferrari in Switzerland, claiming copyright infringement as they lost control of their site. Ferrari has sued the Wasems, arguing they misused the company’s trademark to advertise non-Ferrari merchandise and for personal messages such as invitations for Wasem’s 18th birthday.
Representatives of Facebook and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ferrari’s owner, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the new lawsuit.