It must have been quite the unwanted holiday gift: CNET has learned that there's a new lawsuit on the table against Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the identical twins who alleged that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stole their code and business plan--and who will be prominent supporting characters in the forthcoming film "The Social Network."
Now, a former partner of the twins claims in the suit that he was shut out of ConnectU's own business and is owed a part of the settlement it recovered from the Facebook suit.
The court complaint, filed December 21 in a Suffolk County, Mass. Superior Court and obtained by CNET, names ConnectU, the Winklevoss twins, their father and investor Howard Winklevoss, their business partner Divya Narendra, and their attorney Scott Mosko along with his firm Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett, & Dunner as defendants in an attempt to recover damages for the denial of plaintiff Wayne Chang's alleged ownership rights in ConnectU, as well as to charge the legal team with negligence and a failure to represent Chang adequately in court.
He states in the complaint that he retains a 15 percent stake in ConnectU, held a 50 percent stake in the now-dissolved joint venture he formed with the twins, and therefore is entitled to part of the ConnectU vs. Facebook case--a
"All litigation was ultimately settled without Chang's knowledge of the terms," explained a statement provided upon request by Chang's law firm, the Boston-based Rose Chinitz & Rose LLP. "In fact, ConnectU was sold to Facebook for millions of dollars in cash and Facebook stock. That settlement benefited the Winklevosses--not Chang. Through this litigation, Chang asserts his ownership interest in The Winklevoss Chang Group and ConnectU, including the settlement proceeds."
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss were not immediately available for comment. The argument in their favor, however, would likely be that they had already sued Zuckerberg over ConnectU's intellectual property long before Chang had partnered with them.
Chang may be a familiar figure to those who followed the brutal legal battles over peer-to-peer file-sharing in the middle of the '00s. He was a former University of Massachusetts-Amherst student who'd
This popularity brought i2hub to the attention of the Winklevoss twins, by that point recent graduates of Harvard. They had already filed their original suit against Zuckerberg and the nascent but fast-growing Facebook, the details of which form much of the plot of "The Social Network" and the book that it's based on,
Very little has been made of the relationship between i2hub and ConnectU. A 2005 article from University of Massachusetts student publication Daily Collegian, no longer publicly available but cached in Google, covered the i2hub phenomenon and noted that "The i2hub has created a partnership with ConnectU, an online social network, to allow users to share personal online profiles that may be accessed through the i2hub. Students will be allowed to use their existing profiles from sites such as ConnectU, TheFacebook, and Friendster, and import them to the hub."
But in April 2005, the court complaint alleged, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss severed ties with Wayne Chang. An instant message conversation between Chang and Tyler Winklevoss, included in the court documents, reveals that the Winklevosses staked a claim to a bigger share of The Winklevoss Chang Group because they had contributed more financial backing. Shortly thereafter, the complaint says that the Winklevosses "informed Chang that they were ceasing any further funding and were terminating their relationship with Chang."
Also in the spring of 2005, the RIAA
Though no longer in partnership with the Winklevosses, Chang was regardless named as one of the plaintiffs in the
Meanwhile, ConnectU faded away--the company has long alleged that this was because Zuckerberg, under ConnectU's employ as a programmer, worked on Facebook as a side project and launched that first instead--and the suit against Facebook
It's nothing extraordinary for there to be legal battles over the early intellectual property of a start-up that eventually gets huge, particularly when board rooms are replaced with dorm rooms and contracts take the form of instant-message conversations. But the ConnectU-Facebook saga has been an unusually alluring one: centered on Zuckerberg, widely considered to be
The legal battle will be thrust even more into the mainstream when "The Social Network," directed by David Fincher ("Fight Club") with a
Chang and i2hub are not depicted in the screenplay.
By Caroline McCarthy