Facebook Sends Cease and Desist to Developer Claiming His Website ‘Infringed’ on Their Trademark

Cody Romano says he created an app and site that let users control how much time they spent on Facebook.

Facebook allegedly threatened to fine a software engineer from Cambridge who created an app that let users cut back on time they spent on the social sharing site, telling him if he didn’t remove it immediately, he could face hefty fines.

“I think it’s unfair. I understand companies need to protect their intellectual property, but in this case Facebook was very rude in their email, and also excessive,” says Cody Romano, who created BreakYourFacebook.com.

In a cease and desist letter sent to Romano on Monday, Facebook representatives told the developer his website violated the Lanham Act, and infringed and diluted the “famous” Facebook trademark.

“While Facebook respects your right of expression, and your desire to conduct business on the Internet, Facebook must enforce its own rights to protect its valuable and famous trademark,” the letter said. “For these reasons, Facebook must insist that you immediately stop using BreakYourFacebook.com, and disable any site available at the address.”

The full letter can be read here.

Boston reached out to representatives at Facebook for comment about the letter, and to verify its legitimacy. Requests for comment were not immediately returned, however.

Romano says he created BreakYourFacebook.com at the end of August.

The site let you choose to take a break from Facebook for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks, to help with productivity, and keep people focused at work, says Romano. “I decided I liked Facebook and being able to network, but sometimes I thought it was too much. I created ‘Break Your Facebook’ as a service to let people take structured breaks during the day.”

But soon after receiving the letter from Facebook Monday, which threatened to “pursue all available remedies” against Romano, the developer took his website down. “The email insinuated that for each domain that infringed on their trademark I could be fined for $100,000,” he says. “I think that my app is discernable enough in that I don’t believe I diluted their trademark, but I don’t want to go head-to-head with a massive company.”

Romano, a former Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts student, says the domain BreakyourFacebook.com, which only stood the test of time for a few months, now redirects users to his personal blog, where there is an explanation as to why he removed the site and access to the application. “I’m basically just a guy who spent a few hours developing an app for fun, that was intended to improve the experience of Facebook users, so I don’t see how that service could be confused with Facebook,” he says.

Romano immediately emailed back representatives letting them know that he had ceased the use of the website, but he has not heard back since.

He said the experience and interaction with the social media company has “affirmed my decision and crystallized my dislike of Facebook.” Romano said he wants to use the experience to get the message out to others about what large companies—who have access to peoples’ personal information—are capable of.  “As someone who made this fun app in just a few hours, I don’t think I’m going to fight it, but all I can do at this point is speak out,” he says.