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Ferrari has allegedly threatened to take legal action against a prominent billionaire entrepreneur on Instagram. According to The Drive, the luxury vehicle manufacturer claims that Philipp Plein has been promoting Ferrari in a way that is “distasteful” and not in accordance with the brand’s image. But what exactly is the full story?

The photographs

Plein, a German fashion designer, frequently uses his Instagram account to promote his own line of $800 sneakers. The photos that he posts often show the shoes resting on the hood of one of his Ferraris; the car is also frequently surrounded by women wearing revealing bikinis, sometimes posing seductively with Plein himself.

Cease and desist

On July 29, 2019, Plein posted a photo on his Instagram account of a cease and desist letter he allegedly received from Ferrari’s lawyers. In this letter, Ferrari writes that Plein’s photos are depicting a lifestyle that is “totally inconsistent with Ferrari’s brand perception.”

This letter, which also calls Plein’s Instagram profile “distasteful” and “harmful,” threatened to take legal action if Plein did not remove the photographs it objected to within 48 hours. As of this writing, that 48-hour deadline has passed and Plein has not removed the photographs. In fact, on August 2, Plein posted a video on Instagram of himself and a group of car enthusiasts converging in Times Square to protest the injustice of this cease and desist letter.

Plein responded to the letter with shock and anger. In the caption to his initial post, he stated, “I can’t even put in words how disappointed I am about this unfair and totally inappropriate claim against me personally.” He has continued to make furious posts about it, repeatedly discussing the unfair nature of Ferrari’s complaints and pointing out that he is a loyal customer and frequent buyer of these luxury vehicles.

Can Ferrari really do that?

While it is true that some people could find Plein’s frequent photos of scantily-clad women distasteful, he makes an excellent point in his defense— the car in question, an 812 Superfast, belongs to him. On his initial Instagram post, Plein expressed frustration that Ferrari would ask him to remove a photograph of “my personal car with my personal shoes on it.” Plein claims to be an enormous fan of the brand, having purchased four new Ferraris in the past decade.

Generally, suing someone for what they post on social media requires the post to contain one of four things: defamation, invasion of privacy, breach of contract, or harassment. It seems like Ferrari is reaching for the defamation claim. While there is some precedent for brands suing social media influencers — Luka Sabbat, for example, was sued by PR Consulting, Inc. for breaching his contract with Snapchat in 2018 — it is less common for brands to come after influencers that they have had no prior relationship with.

In fact, Ferrari might be doing themselves more harm than good. While Plein didn’t exactly need the extra media attention — he has upwards of one million followers on his Instagram profile — the drama surrounding this scandal is definitely boosting his numbers. While the majority of his posts receive around 15 thousand likes, his posts discussing the feud with Ferrari have been viewed approximately 400 thousand times. A post that Plein made immediately following the announcement of the cease and desist letter shows the billionaire leaning against his Ferrari and wearing the shoes Ferrari complained about, with the caption, “Looking for trouble.” This post was liked almost 70 thousand times. 

Ferrari does not appear to have issued a public response to the feud, nor has it apparently followed through on the threat to take legal action against Plein.