Ferrari isn't shy when it comes to letting its lawyers loose.
Ferrari has never been an easy company to deal with. The brand is obsessive about protecting its image and doesn't have a problem calling up its lawyers when it perceives a problem. That has led to a lot of people being sued, including everything from a website providing wiring diagrams for classic Ferrari models, to social media influencers having fun with memes, and fashion designers having a Ferrari in a product photo. Whether it's Henry Ford II, journalists, influencers, or even its own customers, only one thing matters to Ferrari, and that's Ferrari. In the world of high-end exotica, image is everything, but has Ferrari always been justified?
Ferrari hates people changing the cars it built and sold. This is something billionaire race car driver Jean 'Beurlys' Blaton discovered when he managed to acquire an F40 IMSA LM when it was retired from racing. With help from long-time Ferrari partner Michelotto, he chopped off the roof, added a tubular steel cage, revised the suspension to include pushrod coilovers, and shortened the exhaust system to exit ahead of the rear wheels. According to Ferrari, changes that drastic disqualify it from being a Ferrari product anymore. As a result, Blaton wasn't able to attend official Ferrari track days and was sent a cease-and-desist letter ordering him to remove all Ferrari badges and markings.
It's hard to imagine any other automaker going to such lengths without hurting its own brand image. If Honda or, say, Porsche started sending out legal notices like that, the pushback would be immense.
When it comes to extravagant douchebaggery, German fashion designer Phillip Plein is a master of selling the garish to the tasteless. He started his career in fashion selling military jackets swathed in Swarovski skulls and now boasts retail stores in the most fashionable cities around the globe. He has also collaborated with a list of celebrates including Lindsay Lohan, Snoop Dogg, Iggy Azalea, Chris Brown, Jeremy Meeks, Paris Hilton, and Floyd Mayweather. Plein got Ferrari's attention when he posted photos on Instagram of products from his label positioned on his Ferrari 812 Superfast with the automaker's logo prominent in the shot. However, he had been already using Ferraris in plenty of images easily deemed as promotional shots, including scantily clad women posing with the cars.
Ferrari's legal counsel said he was using the brand's trademark "with a lifestyle totally inconsistent with its brand perception, in connection with performers making sexual innuendoes and using Ferrari's cars as props in a manner which is per se distasteful," and that such action "tarnishes the reputation of Ferrari's brands and causes Ferrari material damage." Plein refused to remove the images. Ferrari sued, Ferrari won, and Plein was forced to pay €300,000 (around $1.3 million) in damages and €25,000 (approximately $28,300) in legal fees.
This is the most famous example of Ferrari's eagerness for litigation, and it went down in 2014. The car was a Ferrari 458 Italia, the closest the Italian automaker has to a volume model, and it was owned by electronic music producer and DJ Joel Thomas Zimmerman - better known as Deadmau5. Zimmerman decided he would have fun with his Ferrari and ran hard with a theme based around the infamous Nyan cat internet meme. It featured a custom wrap, badges, floor mats, and license plates. The bit Ferrari particularly took offense to was replacing Ferrari with Purrari on the new badges. Ferrari's legal team went into action, and Zimmerman was forced to strip the car's custom wrap and badging. Zimmerman went on to say on Twitter that the Ferrari was "just a normal-ass 458 now." He then sold it for a Lamborghini, dubbed the "Nyanborghini Purracan."
Yep. Ferrari sued and won a case against a charity called the Purosangue Foundation. The supercar maker started by approaching the foundation that promotes health and fitness as it wanted to use the Purosangue name ("thoroughbred" or "full-blooded" in Italian) for its upcoming SUV. The talks broke down, and the Purosangue Foundation took legal action to block Ferrari from trademarking the name in Europe. Ferrari responded by launching proceedings, claiming that the foundation hadn't made sufficient commercial use of "Purosangue" since registering in 2013. "Why do we have to say goodbye to our identity? Ferrari should have just done its research." Max Monteforte, the founder of the Purosangue Foundation, told the UK's Financial Times. "There is plenty of evidence of our activities in recent years." Not cool.
Because wiring diagrams for old Ferraris are hard to understand if you can find them, and Ferrari isn't interested in providing new ones, an enthusiast started creating and selling his own diagrams. Amongst others, he registered FerrariWiring.com and FerrariDiagrams.com and, after a while, got a cease and desist letter from Ferrari. The owner published part of the letter he received and said Ferrari wanted him to hand over the domains:
"Furthermore, we have ascertained that you are actively using the above-captioned domain name by publishing on the home page, and on corresponding web pages, Ferrari S.p.A.'s trademarks, distinctive signs, including the Prancing Horse Scudetto, and Ferrari diagrams [...] We also have ascertained that, on every diagram, the Ferrari name appears in the characteristic lettering, which is also protected as a trade mark."
This is, mostly, fair enough on Ferrari's part, except it appeared they were claiming the diagrams as trademarks. It seems that either that was a step too far, or the website owner worked it out with Ferrari as the site still exists and those URLs redirect to it, but any trademarked material is gone. At the bottom of the website, it is now clearly stated that "This domain has no association with Ferrari S.p.A."
In 2014, Ferrari released pictures of its track-only hypercar, the FXX K, in a press release before the vehicle went into production. The German tuning house Mansory Design promptly set about designing a kit for the road-going 488 GTB to make it look like the FXX K and started selling it in 2016. Ferrari was not impressed and immediately took action based on something known as an "unregistered community design right." Essentially, it's a protection in Europe naturally granted "for a period of three years from the date on which the design was first made available to the public within the territory of the European Union. After three years, the protection cannot be extended." In this case, Ferrari pointed to the FXX K's V shape hood design, the front strake and front lip spoiler integrated into the bumper, and the vertical bridge linking the front spoiler to the hood. It took a while, but Ferrari won the case in November 2021.
Back in the 1980s, Miami Vice didn't have the budget in its first seasons of production for a real Ferrari and used a replica of a Daytona built on a Corvette chassis. Ferrari didn't appreciate that and promptly sued McBurnie, the coachbuilder that created the car. Then, Ferrari gave Miami Vice two 1986 Ferrari Testarossa models for the third season. More recently, Ferrari spotted an online advert for an imported Daytona replica in the Netherlands and sought to have it scrapped so it could not be mistaken for the real deal. The Dutch kit car was seized, and the Hague Court went into action to rule on the case. When the owner demonstrated that there were enough differences between the replica and the original that it wasn't a copyright violation, the court ruled in favor and gave the car back. However, Ferrari did manage to force its badges to be removed.