Update: ConnectU Inc. v. Facebook Inc.

Lawyers for Facebook made a number of filings recently in the ConnectU v. Facebook case, one of which was a statement of the undisputed material facts for the court. Since it sums things up well, I’ll take this time to do my best to update our readers.

To put it simply, ConnectU is suing Facebook for copyright infringement, and it has been going on since September of 2004. The claim is that Zuckerberg copied portions of source code written for ConnectU’s “Harvard Connection” website, and then used the copied code to launch TheFacebook.com (remember the ‘the’?). ConnectU also claims that the two sites are “substantively similar.”

Facebook handed over current and previous versions of its code, including pre-launch code, to be assessed by for similarities. ConnectU was granted a 2 month extension to go over the code.

After the two months, ConnectU responded, not with similarities in the code, but instead with claims about similarities in the way the GUI’s of the two websites operate. They also began arguing that regardless, any code created by Zuckerberg belonged to ConnectU because of their employment relationship or partnership.

The similarities in the GUI are alleged to be found in the way users register and create profiles, and how they are able to search through those profiles. No visual similarity is claimed. Here is a chart of their claims of similarities in the profile search features:

Facebook also has the support of testimony from the web design company, iMarc, that helped ConnectU create its site. The most interesting piece of testimony, I think, comes directly from an internal e-mail at iMarc that says “In April Facebook was already hugely popular. 90 percent of the direction we received from ConnectU was ‘Copy Facebook’ and ignore the HarvardConnection spec and design.”

As for the claim the ConnectU automatically owns Zuckerberg’s code.. that’s based on a claim that Zuckerberg orally agreed that any code he every wrote for any social networking site would belong to ConnectU.

From what I can tell, at this point Facebook is hoping that the court will decide that ConnectU doesn’t have a leg to stand on, while ConnectU is going to try to come up with some new facts to support its claim. It isn’t over ’till it’s over.

Please feel free to correct me if I have it wrong.

Jonathan Kleiman