Facebook v. ConnectU Update

By Eric Goldman

Facebook, Inc. v. ConnectU LLC, 2007 WL 4249924 (N.D.Cal. Nov. 30, 2007) (denying sanctions); Facebook, Inc. v. ConnectU LLC, 2007 WL 4249926 (N.D.Cal. Nov. 30, 2007) (dismissing individual defendants)

You may recall the intertwined relationship between ConnectU and Facebook. ConnectU was a dorm-room project at Harvard. The students hired Mark Zuckerberg to help with the programming. Shortly thereafter, Zuckerberg started a competitive site called Facebook, instantly spawning acrimony between the parties that persists until today. Facebook is now allegedly worth $15B, ConnectU is worth a trivial fraction of that, and both parties seemed destined to pour their entire net worth into suing each other into oblivion. At the rate they are going/spending, all of the lawyers’ kids will be able to afford Harvard where they can make their own “friends” in the dorms.

There are 2 main battlefronts. ConnectU and its owners are suing Facebook and Zuckerberg in Massachusetts alleging that Zuckerberg ripped off their IP. Facebook is suing ConnectU in California for allegedly harvesting user email addresses from Facebook and spamming the users with competitive exhortations. In my previous post on the Facebook v. ConnectU lawsuit, I explained how ConnectU cleaned out some of the harvesting/spam related claims.

These two latest rulings relate to the Facebook v. ConnectU lawsuit as well. In one ruling, the court dismisses three of the individual defendants (Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narendra) because they are not subject to jurisdiction in California. Facebook initially sued in California state court, which concluded that it lacked jurisdiction over these three individuals, a result that Facebook tried to relitigate in federal court. This court responds: “Even if the Superior Court reached an incorrect legal determination, the outcome is conclusive. Facebook ‘does not now get a do-over.'”

In the other ruling, the judge rejects Facebook’s claim for sanctions against ConnectU and some of the individual defendants. Facebook’s argument is based on an apparent inconsistency in claims made by the defendants in the California state court and the Massachusetts court (in CA, defendants claimed that Narendra was a member of ConnectU’s LLC; in Massachusetts, the defendants claimed he wasn’t). The court determines that the facial inconsistency is actually reconcilable (due to a Delaware law that allows retroactive membership in an LLC combined with the different times the fact was asserted) and rejects sanctions accordingly, although the judge suggests that the Massachusetts court might feel differently about sanctions.

Collectively, these two rulings represent yet another preliminary skirmish between the parties before they reach any substantive evaluations of any of their respective claims. Given that the ConnectU v. Facebook lawsuit has been going on for 4 years, that’s a lot of wheel-spinning. C’mon Facebook, throw the ConnectU folks a billion or two so that you can free up your time to focus on more pressing matters, like how to generate revenues without abusing your users’ privacy.