A quick search through Facebook will turn up fan pages devoted to any number of topics: bands, films, Nicolas Cage's face on things. But one young Swiss fan's tribute page to his favorite car manufacturer has landed him in a dispute with the company.
Sammy Wasem created a Facebook page devoted to Italian car manufacturer Ferrari in 2008 at the age of 15. The page had over 500,000 fans in 2009 when Wasem was first contacted by Ferrari. The company congratulated him on his success, but informed him that due to legal issues, they would have to take over administrative control of the site. Ferrari offered to allow Wasem to continue his work on the site with proper oversight, which Wasem did until he filed suit against the company in 2013.
In his suit, Wasem is claiming copyright infringement due to losing control of his page. He alleges that Ferrari appointed managers for the page without consulting the Wasem family, and that the Wasems continued work on the page from 2009-2013 without ever receiving terms in writing of their agreement with Ferrari. Wasem claims that he is owed for over 5,500 hours of unpaid work on the site, and is seeking damages of 10 million Swiss francs ($11.3 million). Ferrari is countersuing the family, claiming they used the company's trademark to sell non-Ferrari merchandise and on invitations for Mr. Wasem's 18th birthday party.
In previous infringement cases involving social media, companies have chosen to co-opt the alleged offender into the marketing process rather than risk the negative publicity of suing a fan of their product. And while social media is a recent development as far as product marketing is concerned, companies that fail to account for such possibilities do so at their own risk. It remains to be seen what lessons Ferrari might learn from this experience. As for Mr. Wasem, he might be best served to stick with Alfa Romeo fan pages next time.