Tech founder considering legal action against new Donald Trump social network that ‘copies’ his work

Eugen Rochko, founder of Mastodon, has asked his lawyers to assess whether former president’s initiative has broken his copyright

Independent Staff
Thursday 21 October 2021 21:29
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Donald Trump’s new Twitter-like social network appears to be an unacknowledged clone of someone else’s work, and the original creator is considering legal action.

Eugen Rochko, creator of Mastodon, told The Independent that he had asked his lawyers to assess whether Mr Trump’s new Truth Social service has broken Mastodon’s copyright.

Although Mastodon is open source and can be freely copied by anyone, its software licence requires imitators to make their own source code available and give credit to the original.

Screenshots taken from a leaked early version of Truth Social showed that it still contained pieces of HTML code from Mastodon, and Mr Rochko said that Truth uses Mastodon’s default error message, indicating that it is almost certainly a clone.

“Well, that looks familiar,” the official Mastodon account tweeted on Wednesday evening.

Mr Rochko said: “We pride ourselves on providing software that allows anyone to run their own social media platform independent of Big Tech.

“But the condition upon which we release our work for free in the first place is that as we give to the platform operators, so do the platform operators give back to us by providing their improvements for us and everyone to see.

“That doesn't only benefit us as the developers – it benefits the people that use these platforms, as it gives them insight into the functionality of the platforms that manage their data and gives them the ability to walk away and start their own.

“So as you can see, compliance is very important to us. I have notified my legal counsel to review the given situation. At the moment I cannot comment any further.”

Truth Social has been asked for comment.

A screenshot provided by Eugen Rochko that appears to show Truth Social using Mastodon’s default error image

Mr Trump’s team announced their new venture with great fanfare on Wednesday, describing it as a future “media powerhouse” with a “non-woke” online streaming service that will compete with Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu.

Within hours, however, hackers had uncovered a live beat version, and social media users were able to hijack valuable usernames such as donaldtrump, donaldjtrump and mikepence.

Mastodon is a free piece of software that can be used to create and run new social networks, designed to escape the centralised rule of Big Tech services such as Facebook and Twitter.

In 2017, Mr Rochko argued that smaller social networks set up by like-minded groups of people would be “less prone to harbouring toxic” behaviour than all-encompassing tech platforms designed to house everyone.

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