The metamorphosis: How Facebook turned a comment into a lawsuit

In a Kafka-worthy move, the social networking giant twists an Internet comment into grounds for legal action

Despite Facebook's patent suit war with Yahoo and its upcoming IPO, it's gratifying to learn that the social networking giant still finds time to threaten the little people.

Two days ago Rick Stratton, co-creator of a cloud-based content management system called, received a four-page cease-and-desist letter from Facebook's attorneys. The threatening letter had nothing to do with; it was about a comment Stratton left on a story published in TechCrunch last May.

[ Also on InfoWorld: The legal fees continue to pile up in Silicon Valley, as Facebook readies for its patent suit war with Yahoo. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

Back then TechCruncher Alexia Tsotsis wrote a frothy little item about a new Chrome extension called Defaceable that allowed people to leave anonymous comments on websites (like TechCrunch) that use Facebook as their commenting system.

Instead of your face and name, Defaceable used the name and image of a piece of fruit, such as Peach, Plum, or Grape. To illustrate the piece, Tsotsis included a screenshot showing a couple of comments from readers, alongside one from "Peach." Inside that screenshot was a comment from Stratton, selected purely by chance.

Stratton heard about the screenshot from his friends on Twitter and returned to TechCrunch to leave another comment: "Hey, I finally made it onto TechCrunch!"

Facebook, being Facebook, quickly put a bullet into the head of Defaceable, claiming the extension violated the social network's terms of service yadda yadda yadda. (When you comment via Facebook, it seems Facebook -- not you -- owns your name and face.) That's all very predictable. What happened next though is straight out of Kafka.

Facebook's attorneys, Mumble, Bumble & Stumble -- sorry, I mean Perkins Coie -- then went after Stratton, sending him the aforementioned nastygram. Why? Because some $600-an-hour lawyer decided that Stratton's "I finally made it onto TechCrunch" meant he was the author of Defaceable.

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