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.

Filed Under: copying, litigation, mark zuckerberg, social networks
Companies: connectu, facebook

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  1. identicon
    Tack Furlo, 8 Apr 2008 @ 8:03am

    Re: #9

    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.

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