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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Facebook threatens Key West native
App creator seeks alternate moniker

Facebook has "unfriended" Key West native Cody Romano.

The 23-year-old software engineer who now lives in Boston received a cease and desist letter from Facebook attorneys on Oct. 21 telling him he was in violation of federal trademark law for developing an application, or app, called "Break your Facebook," which allows users to limit access to the popular social media site while they perform other tasks.

The letter accuses Romano -- son of Womankind Executive Director Kim Romano -- of infringing on its trademarked name, Facebook.

Romano created his app in August in the hopes that it would help others who, like him, were spending too much time on Facebook and not enough time getting work done at their desks. He never thought his then little known project would create such a commotion.

"I ended up disabling the app and plan on changing its name," Romano said. "I understand they (Facebook) have to protect their intellectual property, but I also think the letter was a little harshly worded and excessive."

Multiple attempts to reach Facebook officials for comment on this story were not successful. The Citizen left phone messages and emailed the social media giant seeking comment.

"We understand that you may have registered breakyourfacebook.com without full knowledge of the law in this area," the letter states. "However, Facebook is concerned about your use of the Facebook trademark in your domain name. As you may know the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act provides for serious penalties (up to $100,000 per domain name) against persons who, without authorization, use, sell, or offer for sale a domain name that infringes on another's trademark."

The letter goes on to demand that Romano immediately disable the app and cease all future use under that name.

"Please confirm in writing that you will agree to resolve this matter as requested," the letter states. "If we do not receive confirmation from you that you will comply with our request, we will have no choice but to pursue all available remedies against you."

Romano confirmed he has no interest in legally challenging Facebook, so he disabled his app and is working on another name.

"I have gotten so many emails offering legal help, but I'm not engaged in a legal battle," Romano said. "I'd like to use a similar name. I need to research the law. I think "Break your FB" could be an option, among others, but I'm still researching names."

Romano said he's actually a fan of Facebook and that's why he developed his app.

"I enjoy using Facebook to connect with friends and coworkers, but felt sometimes it was a distraction, so I would sometimes take breaks," Romano said. "Even then, you still find yourself checking your phone in line at the bank or grocery store just out of habit. I created the app to allow you to temporarily lock you out using a password that also prevents you from logging back in until a date of your choice."

The Facebook brouhaha reached news outlets as far as Croatia, Romano said. He's been interviewed by Italian reporters as well as by Business Insider and Boston Magazine.

"I think the story has struck a chord with a lot of people because of the NSA (National Security Agency) controversy and other privacy issues that are causing people to think about Facebook in a different way," Romano said.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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