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7/23/2007
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Facebook, Accused Of Copying Idea, Gets Hearing

A judge this week will try to sort out legal issues between Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Harvard University students who helped develop ConnectU.

A judge is expected to decide this week whether to proceed with a lawsuit that claims Facebook's founder stole source code, trade secrets, and intellectual property from people who hired him to work on a social networking site.

U.S. District Court Judge Douglas P. Woodlock is expected to hold a hearing in Boston Tuesday to decide whether to the defendants' motion to dismiss the case. The lawsuit, filed in March, claims that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg agreed to develop a Web site with students who were working on a similar online meeting place ConnectU and agreed to keep information about the project secret. Soon after Zuckerberg began the work, he registered Facebook's domain name, the plaintiffs said in court filings.

The plaintiffs want the court to shut down Facebook, give them control of the Web site, and award them profits from the social networking site.

Harvard University students, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda, claim that Zuckerberg agreed to develop their Web site idea in 2003, worked on it for a while, disappeared, then promised a "functioning" Web site around the time he registered Facebook.com. Within weeks he launched Facebook. Now, it has about 30 million members and the company recently rejected a $1 billion offer from Yahoo!

The lawsuit is the second filed by ConnectU. A judge threw out an earlier case because of a legal technicality. Facebook also filed its own countersuit claiming that ConnectU is abusing the legal process.

Facebook's lawyer referred calls to the company's public relations representatives. A company spokesperson said the company does comment on pending litigation. In motions to dismiss, the company's lawyers argue that the plaintiffs fail to show that specific conversations and agreements took place on specific dates, or that they have grounds for fraud complaints, among other arguments.

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