Twitter is threatening legal action over Meta’s new social media service, Threads. An attorney for Twitter has called Threads a “copycat” app allegedly developed by hiring former employees of the microblogging platform owned by Elon Musk and using the company’s trade secrets, According to a letter posted by Semafor.
When requested for comment, the letter’s author, lawyer Alex Spiro of the firm Quinn Emanuel, did not immediately respond to. Meta declined to answer the letter, but in response, Threads communications director Andy Stone wrote, “No one on the Threads engineering team is a former Twitter employee — that’s just not a thing.”
After Musk completed his $44 billion purchase of the company last year, Twitter cut its communications department, but it did not respond to an email requesting comment.
The threatening letter came following Threads’ launch on Wednesday, which, according to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, within hours had gained 30 million new users. Threads look similar to Twitter in appearance and also allow users to like and repost messages. However, it capitalizes on Instagram’s popularity by allowing users to follow other Instagram users.
Spiro, in his letter, accused Meta of hiring former Twitter employees who “had and continue to have access to Twitter’s trade secrets and other highly confidential information,” News website Semafor first reported.
“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,” Spiro wrote in the letter.
On Thursday, the contents of the letter were confirmed by a Reuters source with knowledge of it. A request for comment from Reuters was unanswered by Spiro.
A former top Twitter employee told Reuters that they were aware of any previous employees working on Threads or any senior staffers who joined Meta.
Meanwhile, Twitter owner Musk said, “Competition is fine, cheating is not,” in response to a tweet citing the news.
Competition is fine, cheating is not
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 6, 2023
Mastodon and Bluesky Emerge as Competitors to Twitter
Mastodon and Bluesky, among others, have competed with Twitter since Musk took control of the social media platform in October. However, the user interface of Threads is similar to the microblogging platform.
However, neither keyword searches nor direct messaging are supported by Threads.
According to intellectual property law experts like Stanford law professor Mark Lemley, Twitter needs much more details than what is provided in the letter to successfully prosecute a claim against Meta for trade secret theft.
“The mere hiring of former Twitter employees (who Twitter itself laid off or drove away) and the fact that Facebook created a somewhat similar site is unlikely to support a trade secrets claim,” he said.
According to Jeanne Fromer, a professor at New York University, companies alleging trade secret theft must show that they made reasonable steps to protect their proprietary information. Secure systems that were somehow thwarted are a common theme in cases.
The most recent test for Twitter follows after a string of chaotic decisions that have alienated both users and advertisers, including Musk’s most recent decision to limit the number of tweets users may read daily.