Ceglia Refiles Claim for Facebook Ownership, Raising More Questions for Zuckerberg (and Himself)

In the latest twist to the latest lawsuit from someone claiming partial ownership of Facebook, Paul Ceglia has refiled his case from last year — and produced a new string of emails with company founder Mark Zuckerberg that Ceglia claims indicate that he owns up to 50% of Facebook. Ceglia has also convinced one of the largest law firms in the world, DLA Piper, to represent him.

The emails themselves make the case look far more interesting. Until the news broke last night, the most notable recent movement was a judge siding with Facebook a few weeks ago, forcing the case to be heard in a district court instead of a local New York one as Ceglia had wanted.

Given that in the US legal system, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the onus is on Ceglia to convince the courts of his case. And there are still some big questions remaining for him to answer, which we’ll get into below.

For those who haven’t already been following the matter, see our coverage of Ceglia’s case last year, Business Insider’s breathless examination of the latest emails today, additional reporting on the matter from The New York Times, and more discussion on Techmeme — as well as Above The Law’s more skeptical take. ZDNet has a copy of the latest filing, for those who are interested.

Does DLA Piper’s Involvement Lend New Credibility to Ceglia’s Case?

DLA Piper is a large and relatively prestigious law firm and many observers today take its involvement, and its strong statement supporting Ceglia, to indicate that the case has substance. But we are less credulous about DLA Piper’s motives here — law firms represent clients in order to make money, not necessarily to champion the truth. Clearly, the firm is taking on some risk: if it turns out that Ceglia’s claims are completely false, the firm will look bad at picking and vetting clients.

However, given that Facebook has acknowledged that at least some of the documents are real, there is all sorts of room to get an outcome that doesn’t result in complete failure.

The most immediately achievable benefit is marketing. DLA Piper is now appearing in every story about the lawsuit around the world, and in most coverage it is being framed as the expert counsel who is standing up for a jilted entrepreneur against a company that many people have mixed feelings about. Anyone who doesn’t like Facebook, or who wants to go up against a company like Facebook, might now be more likely to turn to DLA Piper than before.

The more obvious benefit is money. Facebook has already shown itself willing to settle with plaintiffs claiming founder ownership, in the case of the Winklevoss twins. While the twins were ultimately lost a variety of appeals (as of yesterday), they were able to land $65 million. That amount was a settlement that Facebook agreed to years ago, when it had much less money.

Facebook has shown it is willing to pay to make problems go away. Even a small win on DLA’s part could mean either cash or stock in Facebook, depending on what the firm can get for Ceglia, and what its representation terms are with him. Meanwhile, demand for legal services has been dropping around the world due to the recession, and it’s possible the firm is more generally willing to take risky cases in order to make money than just a few years ago.

And in case you want more evidence that law firms are interested in representing smaller, possibly suspect clients against bigger ones, just look back to how the world found out about the $65 million agreement between Facebook and the Winklevoss twins: The Winklevoss’ law firm (at the time) advertised the amount of the win as part of its promotional literature to new clients.

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