Could Mark Zuckerberg Lose 84% of Facebook?

If Paul Ceglia's lawyers have their way... Yes.

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Earlier this month, most media observers dismissed a lawsuit filed by a New York man claiming ownership of 84 percent of Facebook. On its face, the suit, filed by Paul Ceglia, appeared rather suspect. His lawyers argue that Ceglia signed a contract with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in April 2003 entitling him to the lion's share of what's now the world's largest social-networking company. But Zuckerberg hadn't even founded Facebook at the time, a fact that has led many to believe this suit was simply a frivolous claim.

That changed today when a Facebook lawyer told a U.S. district judge she was "unsure" whether or not Zuckerberg signed the contract. “Whether he signed this piece of paper, we’re unsure at this moment,” Facebook lawyer Lisa Simpson said. That declaration of uncertainty surprised many in the legal and technology world who now wonder if Ceglia's case has merit. Facebook, it should be noted, is estimated to be worth around $25 billion:

The hearing... explained the situation in a little more detail, saying that the guy, Paul Ceglia, had hired Mark Zuckerberg to do some coding for Ceglia's own project (a sort of "Street View" thing, that was intended to be a paid app for insurance providers). Somehow, according to Ceglia's lawyers, the deal was expanded so that not only would Zuckerberg code Ceglia's project, but Ceglia would "invest" in Zuckerberg's online yearbook project. The whole thing still seems... confusing, at best.
  • I Bet Facebook Will Settle, writes Ron Schenone at Locker Gnome: "It is going to be interesting to see how this court case plays out. I would venture a guess that there might be an out of court settlement and the parties will not be able to disclose the amount of the settlement nor any details."
  • May Be Too Old, writes Kim-Mai Cutler at VentureBeat: "Now six years old, it’s possible that the claim may be too old to pursue under New York’s statute of limitations. The date of the contract also predates the formal founding of Facebook, since Zuckerberg built CourseMatch in September, Facemash in October and then the social network itself later that winter."
  • Still Doesn't Add Up, adds Masnick: "It's unclear why a simple work for hire coding deal would also involve investment in the early version of Facebook, and even the timing seems off, as much of this happened well before pretty much all other reports discuss Zuckerberg's first plans for Facebook."
  • If the Document Is Real, Facebook Still Has Options, writes Eric Eldon at Inside Facebook: "If the document does somehow turn out to be authentic, Facebook’s legal team will no doubt contest its language, the time-lapse, and anything else it can find, and look for a quick settlement. We have a hard time seeing Ceglia’s desired outcome — 84% ownership of Facebook — ever happening."
  • Bad Timing for Zuckerberg, writes Chris Williams at The Register: "The timing of the Ceglia case isn't great for Zuckerberg. His business practices while at Harvard are about to become widespread knowledge with the launch of the movie The Social Network. It covers his dispute with the Winklevoss twins, who alleged he stole code when they employed him to develop their site, ConnectU. Facebook paid them $65m to go away."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.