Facebook Makes Friends With Court Opponents

Dennis Faas's picture

Facebook appears set to settle a long-standing legal row over claims founder Mark Zuckerburg stole the idea for the site from Harvard colleagues.

ConnectU, a site for keeping in touch with current and former college classmates, launched the lawsuit in question way back in 2004. Its founders, brothers Cameron and Tyler Vinklemoss and Divya Marenda, said Zuckerburg had taken the idea when he worked for them in 2003. This work involved setting up Harvard Connection, a dating site specifically for the university. The lawsuit claimed Zuckerburg deliberately took his time on the project because he was secretly working on setting up Facebook using the same system.

Facebook later filed a countersuit claiming ConnectU had used unfair business practices including having programmers hack into Facebook's system to steal email addresses of members.

The details of the settlement are secret at the moment and neither side is commenting. However, it's believed the Facebook countersuit has been dropped as part of the deal.

The settlement is a little surprising; last July, the judge in the case ordered ConnectU to rewrite its argument to include more specific evidence, reminding them that "Claims must have a factual basis." (Source: news.com)

There's some speculation Facebook was anxious to settle the deal now so that it wasn't still on the books if and when they go public as early as next year. Ongoing lawsuits have to be listed in the prospectus for such share offerings and can reduce the amount investors are willing to pay. (Source: nytimes.com)

The case also threatened to become personally embarrassing for Zuckerburg. The evidence presented to the court already includes an extract from his online journal in 2003 where he wrote: "some of these people have pretty horrendous facebook pics. I almost want to put some of these faces next to pictures of farm animals and have people vote on which is more attractive." (Source: 02138mag.com)

Perhaps the biggest lesson to the case is that the legal system's notoriously slow pace is particularly noticeable in the online world. When ConnectU brought the case, nobody involved could have imagined Facebook would become such an Internet giant, or that one of the defendants would make it on to the Forbes rich list before a judgment was reached.

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