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Facebook In Court 129

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the custody-battles dept.
ScaredOfTheMan writes "'The lawsuit, filed by brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra, accuses Zuckerberg, Facebook's 23-year-old C.E.O, of stealing the source code, design, and business plan for Facebook in 2003 when he briefly worked in the Harvard dorms as a programmer for their own fledgling social-networking site, now known as ConnectU. The plaintiffs have demanded that Facebook be shut down and that full control of the site — and its profits — be turned over to them.' I just wonder why they waited so long to sue? If he really stole their idea in 2003, why wait four years?"
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Facebook In Court

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  • Why wait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wmelnick (411371) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @08:55AM (#19858793)
    Until it became massively profitable, why sue? The idea of a lawsuit is to get damages. As long as you do not pass the statute of limitations, waiting is not counted against you.
    • Re:Why wait (Score:5, Informative)

      by pringlis (867347) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:03AM (#19858847)
      They actually originally filed in 2004 but it was dismissed. http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=503336 [thecrimson.com] has details
      • by Gription (1006467)
        My favorite tee shirt slogan hangs in a friends office...

        "Winning is nothing.
        Collecting is everything.
        "

        A law suit is either about being pissed off and trying to slap someone or it is about money.
        The first one can be satisfying but there is something very 'school yard justice' about it.
        The second one is business. (Maybe not good business but it is still business.)
        • by jhylkema (545853)

          My favorite tee shirt slogan hangs in a friends office...

          "Winning is nothing.
          Collecting is everything."

          That sounds very suspiciously like these guys [cookcollec...orneys.com]. They're representing the Goldman family in their efforts to collect from the Butcher of Brentwood. Admirable, but they've also carried water for the Cult^W Church of $cientology, which could be liberally described as morally questionable.

      • by Quixote (154172) *
        Dismissed? FTA:
        On March 28, . . . a Massachusetts judge threw out the original lawsuit on a technicality.

        A ruling based on a technicality is hardly a dismissal...

        • Re:Why wait (Score:4, Interesting)

          by jebell (567579) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @02:02PM (#19860545) Journal
          A dismissal is a dismissal, whether based on a "technicality" or not.
          • by khaosworks (43380)
            Well, there is a slight difference between that and a dismissal on merits. If it was the latter, Facebook could claim res judicata [west.net], but if it was due to something procedural like, say, pleadings being filed out of time, the Plaintiffs could re-file the suit.
            • by jebell (567579)

              Not necessarily. The statute of limitations is a "technicality;" so is the matter of jurisdiction. If the plaintiff failed to file suit in time or couldn't establish that the court had jurisdiction over the defendant, he'd be cooked.

    • Re:Why wait (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:05AM (#19858859)
      And could the editors please start excising biased submitter comments from the article summary?

      It's going to court, the submitter is not the judge or jury, and the comment space is the proper venue for opinions - not the summary.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by RancidMilk (872628)
        It's not like this is Digg, where opinion is preferred over fact.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Derosian (943622)
        Look at the user who submitted it for an explanation of why.
      • by madsheep (984404)
        Insightful? How is this insightful? This is the Internet. Write whatever the hell you want in the comment field. Cry me a river.
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by jerkychew (80913)
        It's not news, it's Slshdot.

        Slashdot is not a pure news site per se, it's a site supported by and contributed to by its members. It doesn't have to follow the same rules as "real" news sites, and this is a good thing. When I read the original post it made me say, "oh yeah, why did they wait so long?". If that hadn't been in the post I never would have gone into these comments.
      • by BeanThere (28381)
        The "editors" can do whatever they want (short of breaking the law e.g. libel), it's their site. If you don't like it you don't have to read it, or you can start your own site. You're of course also welcome to ask that they 'excise bias', as you have done, and they are free to ignore you, but I don't see how can you decide what is the "proper venue" for anything on someone else's website, that's absurd! They *created* slashdot, I think whatever they decide is the "proper" place for X or Y, *is* then the pro
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2007 @08:58AM (#19858823)
    Looks like the poster did a very bad job of reading the original article..

    from the article

    For the last three years, lawyers for the two sides have waged an increasingly contentious - though largely unnoticed - court battle.
    • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:53AM (#19859117) Journal
      OK, I realise that people aren't being paid to submit their stories but surely the editors are being paid to edit them?

      Shouldn't they at least be reading the submissions (titles and story) and then any linked articles as well to make sure that they've been accurately summarised (not to mention relevant)?

      It seems the Firehose is catching most dupes (we get the occasional one but not 2-4 a day as we did a couple of years back) but typos, innacurate headlines, poorly worded summaries and even innacurate stories (such as this one) still abound.

      Just looking at the current frontpage, I can see several stories that either have titles or summaries that need editing:

      Facebook in Court [slashdot.org] : the summary, which fails to tell us that the legal fight has been going on for years, and implies that it's only been started now because of greed.

      Gadgets Have Taken Over For Our Brains [slashdot.org] : the summary, which references Trinity College, but not which Trinity College. Is it the one in London, Cambridge, Washington DC, Toronto, Carmarthen, Florida, Melbourne...? No, it's the one in Dublin? So tell us.

      Linux Creator Calls GPLv3 Authors 'Hypocrites' [slashdot.org] : Ridiculous story that takes quotes out of context to sensationalise the issue.

      Gigabyte N680SLI-DQ6 - A Mother Of A Motherboard [slashdot.org] : At last! A motherboard with three full-length PCI Express x16 slots! Except it only has two.

      CEO Questionably Used Pseudonym to Post Online [slashdot.org] : An ambiguous if not misleading headline. Read the comments for more, but one thing that's not in question is that he used a pseudonym.

      One Laptop Per Child and Intel Join Forces [slashdot.org] : Another ambiguous title, which seems to imply a joint venture. As Intel has joined the OLPC project it would have been more accurate for the title to simply say "Intel joins OLPC Project".

      Call me a pedant if you want to but there are editors for a reason, so they should edit. Their job isn't that hard, and now they even have people looking at the Firehose helping them out, so why are we still getting so many poor or poorly-presented stories?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "...but not which Trinity College. Is it the one in [...] Cambridge,..."

        That's all very well, but which Cambridge? Is it the one in England or Massachusetts?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lemmy Caution (8378)
        Well, there is no real economic incentive for the editors to do otherwise. Slashdot is unimaginably successful. No one has voted with their feet.

        It's just sad that they take such little care and pride in their own project.
        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @12:41PM (#19860065) Journal

          I suspect that's because most people come here for the discussion, rather than the articles. Slashdot only posts around 10 articles a day, out of hundreds of possible stories. Many of these are so late that they are no longer topical. After a while, I started regarding the article as just a general topic; something akin to the subject in a chat room, which may be followed or ignored. Many of the most interesting threads here are wildly off-topic.

          In short: We don't care about TFA, why should the editors?

      • by Quixote (154172) *
        You must be new around here... ;-)

        But seriously: if editors just spent 2 minutes per story (checking the summary, doing a search on their site, etc.), then we'd get rid of most of the duplicates and assorted crap.

      • Gigabyte N680SLI-DQ6 - A Mother Of A Motherboard : At last! A motherboard with three full-length PCI Express x16 slots! Except it only has two.

        Bzzt! Wrong! It does have three full-length (i.e., physically x16) slots. It's just that one of them is electrically x8. So it is full-length, and you can plug an x16 card into it, but it's just slower than the other two slots.

        Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not trying to defend the incompetent editors. But if you're going to complain about other people not getti

        • If it's electrically only x8, then there's no way to legitimately call it a "full-length x16 slot". That would be false advertising, especially to the person wanting to run 3 high-powered nvidia cards at the same time. Even if it looks exactly like an x16, and you can plug an x16 card into it, if it doesn't do what an x16 does (i.e. faster than x8) then it's not an x16.
      • by ls671 (1122017)
        Common, FOX, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Press agencies, etc. don't verify their stories. It's unfair to ask /. do do it.
      • by Mozk (844858)

        One Laptop Per Child and Intel Join Forces [slashdot.org] : An ambiguous if not misleading headline. Read the comments for more, but one thing that's not in question is that he used a pseudonym.
        There is an alternative meaning [reference.com] for questionable.
        • I'm well aware. Which is why I said "ambiguous if not misleading...". It's unclear which meaning of "questionable" is meant here, hence it's ambiguous. A clearer, unambiguous headline would have been preferable.

          By the way, I think you mangled the quoted section in your post a bit.
    • by foleym (980890)
      Maybe the poster was Mark Zuckerberg. If portfolio.com is not going to post wrong information, surely slashdot will.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2007 @08:59AM (#19858829)
    The lawsuit was filed in 2003 actually. This has been an on-going battle for years. There is merit to this case. http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=connectu+face book [google.com]
    • by jamesh (87723)
      I wonder if you'll be the sole voice of reason in the US-court-system-bashing that is slashdot... or at least you'll be the only one to read the article!
  • of course, sue now (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ghostlibrary (450718)
    > If he really stole their idea in 2003, why wait four years?"

    Because suing isn't about moral properness, suing is a business decision. You sue to profit. That's why you sue for money instead of, say, a sincere apology. Everyone's had business ideas and get-rich schemes stolen, you only sue if someone actually manages to succeed with your half-baked never-completed plan.

    (Put me in the school of "it's not the idea or the code, it's the execution plus luck that creates success" school of thought.)

    'Apolo
    • by Anonymous Coward
      BTW, the submitter is wrong, the lawsuit battle has been going on since 2003. Linked article also confirms, as does google: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=connectu+face book [google.com]

      This case has teeth.
      • by ghostlibrary (450718) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:34AM (#19859011) Homepage Journal
        > This case has teeth.

        Hmm... IANAL, but the Crimson article is replent with indication that Zuckerberg was not part of their business-- "he never asked for compensation", "we would have been happy to pay for his services.", "his was not a paid position".

        A contract is an offer plus an acceptance plus renumeration. Without renumeration, there's not as many teeth as one might think.

        Key is "neither camp went so far as to label the partnership contractually binding." This could be in the same category as non-competes, i.e. can you limit what someone does in the future just because they worked with you in the past. And without compensation, the 'work' part is kinda iffy, more like 'talked with' or 'stopped by'.

        This is where ethics (did Zuckerberg screw them over) divides with business (did Zuckerberg do something illegal). Law is murky there. Answer hazy, check again later.
        • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @10:02AM (#19859165) Journal
          Interesting question.

          If I look over your garden fence and see that you're building a giant widget and then you notice and offer me a tour of your giant widget do you have any legal recourse if I decide that I like the idea of having my own giant widget and then make one for myself?

          My gut instinct in that scenario is that you're screwed, unless you got any form of agreement from me before you showed me it. No agreement, no case.

          Is my copying your idea without at least getting your permission ethical? I'd say no but others would disagree. Is it legal? Well, if you didn't get me to sign anything then, unfortunately for you, the answer is probably yes.
          • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @10:43AM (#19859353)
            I haven't read the article, and I don't plan to and I have no particular interest in Facebook ... but this smacks of sour grapes. Okay ... he took their idea. So what? Ideas are cheap, one in a hundred thousand ever becomes anything worthwhile, and if you have a good idea and you give it away you're an idiot. You're especially stupid if you give it to someone who is better at execution than you are and don't have a formal agreement (granted, contracts are only as good as the people who sign them, but without one you're gonna have a much harder time in court.)

            Now, if the guy stole their source code, that would be different. It still wouldn't be a matter "turning over the company" but it might be worth some damages. Odds are any code he ripped off isn't in service anymore anyway.

            I've been through a few small business ventures (none of them made me millions, alas) and if there's one thing you learn early on it's a. find people that you trust and b. keep your trap shut. The worst enemy of a fledgling business is anyone or anything who will take what's been developed and clone it for their own profit. Secrecy is your best weapon, and until your product or service is launched and everyone knows about it, the most important secret is the central product idea itself.
            • by SRA8 (859587)
              While your comment would make sense in a completely altruistic world, we have laws in our nation which specifically disallow some of these accused actions

              >> Okay ... he took their idea. So what? Ideas are cheap, one in a hundred thousand ever becomes anything worthwhile, and if you have a good idea and you give it away you're an idiot.
              --> Yes, an idiot. But still an idiot backed by law if any NDA/Non-compete agreements were signed (article does not discuss)

              >> You're especially stupid if you
              • by jmauro (32523)
                But still an idiot backed by law if any NDA/Non-compete agreements were signed (article does not discuss)

                From the article it was all oral and the Facebook person was working for free. Probably why the litigation has taken so long, since if it was written down who owned what this would be sorted out right quick like. As such it's devolved into a he/she said sort of argument with all the details are murkey.
          • by Mike1024 (184871)
            If I look over your garden fence and see that you're building a giant widget and then you notice and offer me a tour of your giant widget do you have any legal recourse if I decide that I like the idea of having my own giant widget and then make one for myself?

            It sounds like you might have just deduced why legal constructs like 'patents' exist in many countries :-)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by happyemoticon (543015)

          I'm not a lawyer, but the NDA/No-Comp angle is enlightening as to exactly why businesses are so meticulous about having people sign such clauses or contracts. This very fact indicates that actually nailing someone on these grounds is difficult.

          1) Business plan/"Idea": Seems to me this would be classified as a trade secret. However, they did not attempt to protect themselves via contract. If you just told this guy, who might as well be your mother-in-law, a reporter or John Doe off the street, it's not a s

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by hamelis (820185)
          Having recently graduated from the (not so) illustrious institution from which this case originates.. I can safely say that anyone who was around at the time and paid attention knows Zuckerberg essentially stole the idea. As the parent poster says, the legalities of that reality are something else.

          I can also say that hardly anyone actually cares. Competition, he won. We only pretend to be less cutthroat than other schools.
  • by Alien54 (180860) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:01AM (#19858837) Journal
    of becoming a roaring success.

    Then you come in and steal the fruits of their labors. Because the way they developed it and did it is not the way you would have done it.

    and their way worked.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Or, the guy stole their source code and profited off it, and now they want a cut for their hard work. It really all depends which angle you look at it.
      • Well, I'd say it depends on what really happened. The problem is that everything was apparently verbal, and I'm not sure how this is going to be resolved. My guess is that Facebook will end up settling out of court for some millions to get off the hook. Probably that's all the people suing Facebook want anyways: I can't believe they truly expect to have the company just turned over to them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:03AM (#19858853)
    A) there's no point suing someone who has no money. Did you expect them to do it when he was in massive debt? He'd just declare bankrupcy, close the company and they'd get nothing.

    B) to get full damages you normally have to try to resolve things equitably without the court. It probably takes a long time to prove he wasn't cooperating.

    C) when you start suing, you have to be sure of your case. That means you have to get witnesses together and proof of your right to whatever you are suing over. He says / she says is not a good thing to risk the cost of an American lawsuit over.

    Now I'm not saying they are right (I don't know and you also don't know) or have a moral right to this, but the reasons are pretty obvious.
    • A) there's no point suing someone who has no money. Did you expect them to do it when he was in massive debt? He'd just declare bankruptcy, close the company and they'd get nothing.

      Except a large portion of his assets; including facebook.com, which was even then a very valuable property. Do you understand bankruptcy law at all (you certainly can't spell it)?
  • Perhaps they have been trying to resolve it with this guy out of court for a while now. Believe it or not, some people have a moral opposition to lawsuits as any but a last resort.

    Perhaps it doesn't matter why they waited, if the guy stole the code from them.
  • by OverlordQ (264228) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:09AM (#19858891) Journal
    Well he must have only stole the good bits, loaded up the front page of ConnectU and must say that it looks like crap.
    • by Angelwrath (125723) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:57AM (#19859129)
      I looked at the site and it looks quite professional, actually. It looks very good considering that it's a student effort. Now if they had $100,000 to hire a UI design consultant, a graphics expert, and some expert coders, I'm sure it could look and perform much better.
      • by azuretek (708981)
        So just because they're students they should be held to lower standards? If it's not good then it's not good... regardless of this supposed $100,000 dollars worth of people they need to make it good.
        • by megaditto (982598)
          Just because they are students...
            they still deserve to get paid if someone ripped of their source code (if that is what happened). And just because the student codes get paid $5.15/hour does not mean the theif that made millions with the stolen code should only pay them $5.15
    • by WK2 (1072560)
      I disagree. connectu has a nice, simple interface. It was obvious what button I wanted to click if I wanted to join. I didn't, so I can't comment on the code. Then I tried facebook. Also simple. I clicked register, and got an error page telling me I don't have javascript enabled (which is true) and how to enable it if I have one of the "supported browsers."

      All in all, both of them are 1000 x better than myspace.
      • by OverlordQ (264228)
        I clicked register, and got an error page telling me I don't have javascript enabled (which is true) and how to enable it if I have one of the "supported browsers."

        Hah, kinda ironic there. I had NoScript installed and forgot to enable Facebook but I go no warnings so I didn't know what was up, realized it was NoScript and emailed them and suggested they add a JavaScript not enabled warning . . . makes me tingle inside but I know it's probably just a coincidence.
  • Serendipity ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cuchualainn (1127989) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:32AM (#19858999)
    Funny though, in terms of business psychology - you'll often find people with exceptional programming ability and tons of great ideas. But are too scattered and unfocused to actually run and slowly build a business from the ground up. Then on the other hand, you'll get individuals who aren't nearly as creative in the same sense. But who can take and idea and foster it until it becomes a true global champion. Maybe this could count as a kind of Internet serendipity ? As for who gets the cash ? Don't ask me ...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:38AM (#19859035)
    http://news.justia.com/cases/connectu-facebook/337 138/ [justia.com]

    However, it seems like Facebook's suit is more of a leverage to get the first case dismissed. Facebook is saying ConnectU damaged them somehow, but when asked, Facebook said they couldn't identify what the damages were. This is from a company worth billions, and rejected a $1 billion buy out offer.

    And the defendent list includes new people, Winston Williams, Pacific Northwest Software, Wayne Chang, David Gucwa.

    Let the battle of the titans begin!
  • by Broken scope (973885) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @09:47AM (#19859079) Homepage
    Do they have a deathwish? Socially active college students everywhere won't be able to function without facebook! How will they nkow who is dating who? Where will the post photographic proof of the latest stupid shit they did? Where else will the put their whiny I hate the opposite sex notes. Certainly not myspace.. for there is an evil there that does not sleep.

    You would have an agrngy horde on your hands very quickly.
  • Might there be another YouTube-like deal hatched at a Silicon Valley Denny's in the offing? ~From TFA, in reference to google and facebook I thought Yahoo already bought facebook. So if he's not talking about just ads (which it seems to me like he wasn't), then what is he talking about?
  • precedent (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jeek Elemental (976426) on Saturday July 14, 2007 @10:45AM (#19859365)
    I hope this ends setting some kind of precedent, where lawyers everywhere are forced to reference the Winklevoss-Zuckerberg case with a straight face.
  • Considering how different www.connectu.com is from facebook I'm not sure I see the merits of this lawsuit...
    • by foleym (980890)
      Considering Zuck did work with them, I'd say there's merit. But forget about that. Lets just look at defense for Zuckerberg.. First, even if he stole all the code, Facebook's interface has changed a lot in the past 4 years so yeah, a company that makes millions of dollars per week better probably will not have the same interface as a site created in a dorm room. Second, it's not all about looks. Assuming connectU used a 3-tier archiecture (most likely, I can't say for sure) Zuck could have stolen the data
      • Ideas are meaningless. They are a dime a dozen. It's execution that counts. I suspect the only part of the lawsuit that would have any merit would be if code were stolen. However, even in that case, if there was no NDA or other contract in place and the plaintiffs were free loading on Zuckerberg's time as everyone seems to agree, they probably have nothing to sue for except sour grapes.
  • No brainer. If someone steals an idea that has little chance of success (like all companies) then the victim of the crime simply waits to have the idea succeed (or fail). The victim can then claim his rights to the property and enjoy the benefit without the risk/work.
  • I've been hearing these accusations since 2004. It's not a new conflict. I was under the impression they were attempting to settle everything without resorting to a lawsuit, but it appears that isn't the case.

    They didn't wait years to sue, they knew about the problem almost from day 1 and definitely spoke up about it. Whether the theft actually happened, or they just imagined it did, is another matter altogether.
  • I'm the real Napster.
  • Facebook core is simple and basic. A lot of people have had similar ideas, and the early version of facebook (no more than a year ago) was something that anyone with medium level of php+mysql+html would have thought to themselves "I could do that and better in a few days!".

    But thats not the merit. The difficult thing is turning that simple idea and design into something useful and into a profitable business. When I first heard of facebook i just thought it was one more of those pages i dont want to know
  • Cowboy- well I appreciate your slashdotting of many interesting articles, let it be said lawsuits take time- discovery process, etc.

Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward.

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