The last time Elon toured the legal system, he botched the negotiation process so badly that he locked himself into buying Twitter for $44 billion so he could provide a safe space for neo-Nazis and anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists. On that front, well, mission accomplished!
Fast forward and Twitter is now worth a mere $15 billion and the only thing keeping it from bottoming out completely is that the audience still trying to settle on Mastodon or Bluesky or, as the case may be, Threads.
Meta (the artist formerly known as Facebook) unleashed a new microblogging platform called Threads that leverages the company’s existing user base — specifically its Instagram users — to roar out of the gates faster than the other Twitter alternatives out there, boasting 30 million users within 24 hours.
And while Musk chickened out of a challenge to fight Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a cage match, blaming his mother in the process, he’s still itching for a fight and yesterday he sent Meta a mean legal threat.
Or… not a threat? It’s not really a cease and desist or anything. It’s just a conglomeration of vaguely litigation-sounding words that don’t really add up to much.
The full letter from Quinn Emanuel’s Alex Spiro is below, but here are the highlights:
Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:
I write on behalf of X Corp., as successor in interest to Twitter, Inc. (“Twitter”). Based on recent reports regarding your recently launched “Threads” app, Twitter has serious concerns that Meta Platforms (“Meta”) has engaged in systematic, willful, and unlawful misappropriation of Twitter’s trade secrets and other intellectual property.
That sounds scary! Alas, it is not.
Over the past year, Meta has hired dozens of former Twitter employees. Twitter knows that these employees previously worked at Twitter; that these employees had and continue to have access to Twitter’s trade secrets and other highly confidential information; that these employees owe ongoing obligations to Twitter; and that many of these employees have improperly retained Twitter documents and electronic devices.
You know, if Twitter wanted to keep those folks from joining other companies, Twitter didn’t have to fire them all. Musk bragged about firing 80 percent of Twitter’s staff and apparently never considered the possibility that computer programmers might program computers again. While his platform became a buggy mess, those folks found new jobs.
The letter eludes to “ongoing obligations,” a delightfully vague expression that falls well short of “non-compete agreements” because California frowns on non-competes that bar a former employer from locking someone out of their profession. Maybe Twitter is evoking the “bros before platform clones” doctrine.
If former employees improperly retained documents and electronic devices that could present a real issue… but why would they?
We’re not talking about rocket science here — that’s the other business where Musk drapes himself in the accomplishments of smarter people he employs — it’s a microblogging platform. The “trade secrets” involved are in the money-making algorithm stuff that Threads isn’t even doing yet as it tries to amass users with a pleasant feed for the time being.
Twitter intends to strictly enforce its intellectual property rights, and demands that Meta take immediate steps to stop using any Twitter trade secrets or other highly confidential information. Twitter reserves all rights, including, but not limited to, the right to seek both civil remedies and injunctive relief without further notice to prevent any further retention, disclosure, or use of its intellectual property by Meta.
Meta will, after they regain composure from the belly laughs, respond, “Thanks, we won’t, peace!”
The letter then goes on an extended jag about Meta not being allowed to scrape Twitter user data, which is a fair point though the whole point of Threads is that it can accrete users through Instagram so it doesn’t need to be trawling Twitter. And it’s not like a company needs some sort of alchemy to get users to leave Twitter, Elon’s managed to do that all on–ALERT: Rate Limit Exceeded.
Sorry, about that. I guess I wrote too many words for the day.
Please consider this letter a formal notice that Meta must preserve any documents that could be relevant to a dispute between Twitter, Meta, and/or former Twitter employees who now work for Meta. That includes, but is not limited to, all documents related to the recruitment, hiring, and onboarding of these former Twitter employees, the development of Meta’s competing Threads app, and any communications between these former Twitter employees and any agent, representative, or employee or Meta.
All that for a litigation hold.
Perhaps Musk is serious about trying to tangle with Facebook and add a massive litigation sinkhole atop his company’s declining value. But it seems as though, if Musk thought he had a case, he’d be filing a lawsuit instead of sending an ersatz cease and desist letter. Meta is not going to yank Threads from the market over some weak sauce speculation that fired Twitter employees consulted arcane Twitter lore to program an app that lets you read short messages.
It’s put up or shut up o’clock on the West Coast. And all we’ve got so far is a lawyerly cage match challenge. His mom should tell him to slink away from this one too.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.