Facebook/ConnectU Settlement Shows Why Losers Litigate

from the it's-profitable dept

Last year, in the midst of various claims from multiple different people that Mark Zuckerberg somehow “stole” the idea for Facebook from other Harvard students, we noted that it really didn’t matter. After all, the basic concepts behind Facebook were hardly new when Zuckerberg started it. There had been sites like SixDegrees, Ryze and Friendster long before Facebook came along. What mattered wasn’t the idea, but the execution — and for whatever reason, what Zuckerberg did with Facebook got traction while the others did not. That’s called competition, and we generally think that leads to a healthy economy. Yet, the founders of ConnectU, the competing site that went nowhere, sued Zuckerberg and Facebook over this, and both sides were pushed by a judge to settle out of court — and that appears to be exactly what’s happening. The NY Times is reporting that Facebook has reached some sort of settlement with ConnectU’s founders.

This sort of thing was inevitable, but it’s still problematic. With Facebook generating so much publicity lately, and potentially gearing up for an IPO, it doesn’t want these types of lawsuits hanging over it. So it’s worth more to just settle and pay up, even if the claim itself is bogus. Yet, all this really does is encourage more similar lawsuits from companies that lost in the marketplace whining about competitors who did a better job executing. While some may say the ConnectU case is different because Zuckerberg worked with ConnectU for a few months, that hardly changes the basic facts of the case. This wasn’t a new idea, and it’s unlikely that ConnectU had done anything remarkably different than other competitors out there. In fact, it seems clear that it did not, since the site never went anywhere. Yet, because it’s cheaper for Facebook to pay out and keep this quiet, ConnectU’s founders get paid for failing in the marketplace. That’s a bad precedent no matter how you look at it.

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Companies: connectu, facebook

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Comments on “Facebook/ConnectU Settlement Shows Why Losers Litigate”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Research

Biggest problem with online forums is like the first post on the comments here.

If you don’t anything of value to the discussion to say, don’t say anything.

Congratulations, you’ve made a post with absolutely nothing to add to the argument other than “NUH-UH YOU STUPID” and your comment is being treated as such.

What “research” needs to be done? Why is Mike’s argument incorrect? You provide none of these.

You are pretty much in the same lot as spammers since the _only_ thing in your comment is the link to whatever the hell site is in your name (never bothered to even click on it).

As it stands, the only thing your comment does is share a link to a homepage of some sort. I’d click on it, but if its yours I don’t want to increase your ad revenue.

Anonymous Coward says:

I find it excruciatingly amusing to find out, as I grow older, how the adult world is really just like the playground at kindergarten, just bigger. Seriously, like Valleywag put it, these guys are the ‘wannabe founders of facebook’. I would be ashamed to have my big fat Harvard picture next to a story about my whining that ‘I was about to do that! MOM, he stole my idea! Quit looking at me.’
Heres an idea for the twins: How bout you use that big fat Harvard education, and get a job?!?!
Nah, jobs are for losers.

Andrew Feinberg (user link) says:

They don't need to work.

Their father is millionaire Wharton professor and actuary Howard Winklevoss.

The “founders” spend their time rowing in an attempt to make the 2008 Olympic team. They only started ConnectU (and paid programmers) after Zuckerberg started his own company instead of doing their work without being paid.

Read some of their court depositions here

Anonymous Coward says:

I think the issue was more that they thought he stole the *code* for the site. Either way, had the original founders ensured that the proper protections were in place then they probably wouldn’t be settling. How about IP protections and non-competes. *If* he really did steal it, they screwed up by not planning for the divorce instead of the marraige.

Tack Furlo (user link) says:


How did they steal their code?

This sounds suspiciously like the whole SCO/Linux ordeal, where SCO claims that Linux has copied its code, then refuses to provide the code in SCO Linux that they claim is copied because if they did so then the code would be public (as a matter of court record) and thus be copied by someone. It’s kinda like if Coke claimed Pepsi violated the formula for Coke, then when Pepsi provides their formula used to make Pepsi, Coke refuses to show the formula for Coke for comparison for fear that RC Cola might copy it. Yet they expect a verdict in their favor without any proof of their claim.

Besides the basic HTML, I assure you that both ConnectU and Facebook use some sort of server-side code, be it PHP, ASP, JSP, or even a hard coded C program. This code is never seen by the end user (it’s processed and translated into HTML before it’s sent to the user’s browser) so without direct access to the code on Facebook’s or ConnectU’s servers, there is no way to verify any code copying claim. If they claim the HTML is too similar but ConnectU generates that HTML using ASP server side, while Facebook generates the HTML using PHP server side, then the code on either server is completely different, in a totally different and incompatible language. Therefore, I don’t know if they’re claiming code copying or not, but without a hell of a lot of inside knowledge or corporate espionage (which would be inadmissible in court anyway) they cannot prove such a claim. Therefore, if they have filed it, they’re stupid, and their lawyer should’ve refused to file it. If their claim is something else they may at least have some sort of prima facia case, but they can’t prove code copying without releasing their own code for comparison, and I’m willing to bet they threatened facebook with a 10 year ordeal like what happened with SCO and facebook caved knowing that crooked as that would be, they could do it.

DanC says:

Re: Re #9-11

According to this article, he stole their code when he worked for them.

The article does not say that at all. What the article does say is that the ConnectU founders are claiming that Zuckerberg copied their code. The truth of their claim has not been determined, and won’t be, now that FaceBook has settled.

The point Tack brought up is that there is question concerning what would constitute copied code. For example, if I copy another web site’s template, I will invariably replicate some of their code when creating my own. That doesn’t mean, however, that I copied their code, as it was independently developed.

Pepsi never worked Coca-Cola to my understanding.

It’s called a hypothetical situation.

Aaron says:

Re: Re: Re #9-11

” According to this article, he stole their code when he worked for them.

The article does not say that at all. What the article does say is that the ConnectU founders are claiming that Zuckerberg copied their code. The truth of their claim has not been determined, and won’t be, now that FaceBook has settled.”

“ConnectU founders Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra had originally filed suit against Facebook’s founders in September 2004, claiming that CEO Mark Zuckerberg had nabbed their code and business plan while employed as a programmer for ConnectU when all four were students at Harvard.”

james glenn says:

it's because it became popular at harvard

the application that zuckerberg had previously made, facemash or what ever it’s called, had spread wildly throughout in the harvard community. then, after meeting with the connectu people, zuckerberg acquired their vision and move along with that, creating thefacebook. it became popular with other schools because it was popular at harvard. harvard has talismanic powers in terms of how anyones association with the school affects their public relations. a popular social utility tool that a student creates at that school was bound to get notice outside of the school. bam – millions of people became interested. The chances of facebook becoming successful if it had originated anywhere else other than harvard or it’s ivy league equivalents is vastly diminished (yet i’m sure students at other schools have created extraordinary things). In that sense, connectu could have been popular by virtue of having mark’s skills involved in creating it and the fact that it could have been successful because it was created at harvard. Mark was hired by the Winklevosses and Narenda – that much is true. but it appears nothing was in writing; that’s what makes the connectu people’s case weak. and facebook, ironically, is probably better because mark bailed on the connectu project. but perhaps the connectu people have some cause for complaint, even if they have a rather tenous capacity to support legal action.

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