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Mark Zuckerberg might have to create a “Don’t like” button for people claiming they own all or a fraction of Facebook. Having already seen off the Winklevoss twins who claimed he stole the idea for Facebook from them, Zuckerberg now faces a convicted fraudster who says he has a contract giving him 84 percent of the social network.
Paul Ceglia, from Wellsville, New York, said Zuckerberg signed a contract with him that shows he should be entitled to the lion’s share of the business – and late on Monday night released, through his lawyers in the US, a tranche of emails that purport to show him and the Facebook chief executive discussing, between July 2003 and July 2004, various matters relating to “thefacebook” – as the site was known in its early days.
The case will be heard in federal court, following a ruling at the end of March that Ceglia and Zuckerberg live in different states – though the latter grew up in New York before going to Harvard, and then to California where he turned the company into the world-spanning social network, with about 600 million members.
Ceglia claims that in 2003 he hired Zuckerberg, then an 18-year-old first-year undergraduate at Harvard, to do some coding for a site called Streetfax (later Streetdelivery) that he was planning. Zuckerberg was paid $1,000 on a “work for hire” contract, Ceglia has contended in court, and then put to work on a project called “The Face Book” or “The Page Book” in which Ceglia invested $1,000.
Certainly, when Facebook first launched, it was called “thefacebook” – but the other details are disputed by Facebook and Zuckerberg’s lawyers.
Among the emails released by Ceglia through his lawyers, DLA Piper, is one in which Zuckerberg apparently tells Ceglia he is thinking of shutting the site down because it is having so little success, despite the payment made by Ceglia to keep it going.
In response Facebook has said the emails, and the contract on which Ceglia claims to have Zuckerberg’s signature, are fakes – and point to Ceglia’s convictions on counts of fraud and past arrests.
Ceglia was arrested and charged with criminal fraud and grand larceny in 2009, after the wood pellet company he and his wife run failed to deliver $200,000 worth of orders to customers in four states. A lawyer for the Ceglias then said the money had been invested in machinery, labour and subcontractors for the pellets.
Ironically, Ceglia has also said that fraud charge was the reason he discovered his claim to Facebook – that it was only when looking through papers relating to those cases that he discovered the old contract with Zuckerberg.
Ceglia first filed suit last summer, and has now added extra evidence in the form of the emails. DLA Piper has said it performed “weeks” of due diligence on Ceglia’s claims to show that they stood up – including an “electronic analysis” of the contract where Ceglia signed up Zuckerberg.
But the case is even more complicated. Andrew Logan, founder and chief executive of a company called StreetDelivery, claims that in 2003 Ceglia was working for him at the time he claims to have hired Zuckerberg to code Streetfax.
That could mean that Ceglia’s hiring of Zuckerberg – and any intellectual property created there – actually reverts to Logan. For Ceglia, even if he wins he might lose.
For Zuckerberg, though, it’s just another day proving that while failure is an orphan, success definitely has many, many parents.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.