Rivals sue Facebook, seek site shutdown

ConnectU founders allege Facebook creator stole their ideas and trade secrets to establish social networking site

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The three founders of social networking site ConnectU have filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Boston claiming that the founder of the hugely successful Facebook.com stole their ideas when he was working for them while they were students at Harvard University.

The plaintiffs accuse Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of fraud, copyright infringement, and misappropriation of trade secrets. The plaintiffs want the court to shut down the site and transfer its assets to them. They are also seeking unspecified damages.

In a hearing today, Facebook asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The outcome of the hearing could not be determined at deadline. Attorneys for Facebook and for ConnectU could not be reached for comment.

ConnectU originally filed the lawsuit in September 2004, but it was dismissed on a technicality in March and refiled on March 28.

In court documents, Zuckerberg's attorneys denied that their client stole the ideas of the other three Harvard students. They also said that the ConnectU founders didn't have any evidence of a contract with Zuckerberg.

According to the lawsuit, ConnectU's founders Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevosss, who are brothers, and Divya Narendra said that while they were at Harvard, they began working on Harvard Connection, a social networking site that they later renamed ConnectU.

The plaintiffs, according to court documents, said they hired Zuckerberg to complete the computer program software and database definitions for the Harvard Connection and gave him access to their Web site source code in late 2003. The three men said they told Zuckerberg that he needed to complete the work as soon as possible because they wanted to launch the site before they graduated in June 2004. In addition, they said Zuckerberg acted as a member of their development team and had access to proprietary information.

The ConnectU founders claimed that on Jan. 8, 2004, Zuckerberg sent them an e-mail saying he would deliver the completed Harvard Connection code and a functioning Web site. However, they said three days later he registered the domain name TheFaceBook.com and launched Facebook on Feb. 4, 2004, using information gleaned from them. However, they said Zuckerberg never gave them the promised code. ConnectU was launched on May 21, 2004, the lawsuit said.

According to the Facebook blog, the Web site has 30 million active members.

This story, "Rivals sue Facebook, seek site shutdown" was originally published by Computerworld.

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