Facebook Unveils New Face, Sues Imitator for Copying Old Features

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook has initiated legal action against a German website for allegedly copying its site layout. It's ironic timing as Facebook revamps its own look, with some critics saying it may have itself imitated another website.

The court case involves StudiVZ, billed as the most successful social networking site in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The name is an abbreviation of the German word for 'student directory'.

The two sites do have a history together: at one stage the companies were in takeover talks and early versions of StudiVZ even included a CSS file named 'fbook'. That's pretty damning as CSS files are used to control the overall look and feel of a website.

StudiVZ officials said they were not allowed to comment on the specifics of the case, which is going through the California court system. However, CEO Marcus Riecke said the case was "meritless", adding "Facebook is arrogantly laying claim to an international monopoly over social networking sites that the facts show it does not deserve." (Source: marketwatch.com)

The StudiVZ site is only accessible once you've registered. However, Techcrunch has published a screenshot of how the site looks, using a dummy profile in the name of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerburg.

By a strange coincidence, the legal action came in the same week that Facebook underwent its own extreme makeover. The main changes involve rearranging pages into four tabbed folders covering the news feed, personal profile info, photos, and applications.

However, the site's new look is somewhat reminiscent of FriendFeed, a rival site which brings together news from your online friends' activities on sites such as Youtube and Twittr.

The StudiVZ case will be worth watching to see how the court rules on the question of how closely a site can be 'influenced' by a rival before it's counted as copyright infringement.

Facebook's lawyers seem to have a poor sense of timing: the site's re-launch somewhat undermines their claims that the original design was vital to the firm's ongoing success, and the similarity to FriendFeed may make it difficult to avoid charges of hypocrisy.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet