Normally, this kind of case would be viewed as a get rich quick play by most because there are more than a few large question marks in the claims of a web developer in upstate, New York. He has already taken one swipe at claiming that an amended contract from 2004 between he and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg entitles him to some serious cash.
The strange fight over the origins of Facebook Inc. has new lawyers, new allegations—and possibly new legs.
Paul Ceglia, who last year surprised Silicon Valley by claiming he was entitled to a large stake in the social-networking company, filed an amended complaint citing emails he says support his claims against Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive.
Mr. Ceglia, who lives in Wellsville, N.Y., has hired DLA Piper, one of the world’s largest law firms, to represent him in the case he filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. He also has added Dennis Vacco, a former New York attorney general, as co-counsel.
The suit claims a 2003 contract between Mr. Ceglia and Mr. Zuckerberg entitles Mr. Ceglia to 50% of the founder’s equity from when he started the company in 2004.
Why are we giving this any attention? It’s mainly because the law firm that has been retained by Mr. Ceglia is big. Real big. Most big firms don’t do a lot of ambulance chasing and high risk cases because they have the resources to weed out who has a case and who doesn’t before they decide to take on a client. Like any big firm they want to feel like there is a real chance of ‘winning’ (which may be just a large out of court settlement rather than a trial and verdict but it’s the money that matters, not the truth, right?) before they invest time and resources in pursuing a case.
What makes this interesting is the intrigue around just how Facebook started and it dredges up all of the questionable characteristics of none other than the social media wonderkind himself, Mark Zuckerberg. Of course, let’s not ignore that Mr. Ceglia has had his own legal issues and there are likely to be countless questions about his character. My guess is that the lawyers think they know about him enough to make something fly.
Zuckerberg has been viewed from both ends of the spectrum. Depending on who you speak to he can be a man of very questionable character or he can be Time’s Man of the Year. He can be portrayed as the starter of revolutions or the man who stole the idea of Facebook. He can be the sweating, uncomfortable kid on stage trying to talk about his service or the new, improved and slicker Zuck.
So what’s going to happen with this lawsuit? It’ll be fodder for many continue to dig into Zuckerberg’s past and that never seems to come up with nice things about him and his character. I have never personally met the man and it is very likely I never will, so any assumptions I make (along with just about anyone else) about him will come from the court of public opinion. That’s a court that no one wants to be tried in because, let’s face it, no one is even close to perfect yet most people like to judge.
The lawsuit and the outcome will almost be secondary unless of course, Mr. Ceglia’s attorneys somehow convince someone that he really is entitled to half of Facebook based on a claim he sat on for over 6 years because he says he had forgotten about it. That alone is sketchy. But hey, stranger things have happened and if Zuckerberg suddenly became 50% poorer that would be something of interest.
In the end though, the big loser in all of this is likely to be Zuckerberg because the more that is revealed about who he is and how he handles business dealings the more suspect he becomes. I have always believed that culture in a company comes from the top down so the darker the image that is painted of Zuckerberg it’s natural to believe that Facebook is operating like he does in general. Look at how Facebook has approached privacy. It’s always been a “let’s ask for forgiveness rather than permission” approach which is the same as saying “let’s see what we can get away with”.
Maybe Zuckerberg’s tendency to try to get away with things will come back to bite him. Who knows? Honestly, whether the case is won, lost or dismissed is irrelevant because what’s really on trial is Mark Zuckerberg’s character or lack thereof. That’s what will likely be with him forever in the digital world he helped to create that can never forget and often chooses not to forgive.