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Facebook ownership saga goes on

Maggie Shiels | 09:10 UK time, Tuesday, 12 April 2011

When do you know you are beat? When is it time to call it a day?

These are but two questions that have hounded Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss for a number of years as they doggedly claimed that Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them. The issue even became central to the narrative of a hit Hollywood movie about Facebook called The Social Network.

Tyler Winklevoss Twitter page

To this day they cling to the belief that they have been robbed despite signing a $65m deal in 2008 with Mr Zuckerberg to resolve the issue. Divya Narendra, a fellow Harvard student, was also part of the settlement but bowed out at a later stage in the proceedings to presumably get on with his life and pursue a career as a businessman.

It should be noted that Mr Zuckerberg has always denied these claims of theft.

The Winklevoss twins, elite rowers who are training for the 2012 Olympics, have been portrayed as idle rich with nothing better to do with their lives. They have been pursuing Mr Zuckerberg since 2004. In interview after interview, the two former Harvard students have claimed their fight has had little to do with money but more to do with justice. Their tweets following the court ruling against them even had the hashtag #FightForJusticeWillGoOn.

An earlier attempt to have the 2008 agreement revisited was thrown out by a lower court. That did not deter the two men who turned to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco at the turn of the year. They again requested that the court unwind the $65m deal, which is worth an estimated $160m today given Facebook's soaring $70bn valuation.

In their presentations to the court the Winklevi twins, as they have become known, claimed that they deserved more money. Their lawyers told three judges presiding over the issue that an internal valuation given for Facebook at the time was material to the settlement and should have been disclosed. Had that been the case, they would have been due around four times as many shares, worth around $600m today.

Facebook's lawyer argued that this was a case of buyers' remorse.

Sitting in court that day in January, it was clear to everyone that the judges were not terribly sympathetic to the notion of two young men of privileged background with the best legal advice that money could buy had been duped. They made just such a reference in their ruling.

"The Winklevosses are sophisticated parties who were locked in a contentious struggle over ownership rights in one of the world's fastest-growing companies," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote.

"They engaged in discovery, which gave them access to a good deal of information about their opponents. They brought half-a-dozen lawyers to the mediation. Howard Winklevoss - father of Cameron and Tyler, former accounting professor at Wharton School of Business and an expert in valuation - also participated. A party seeking to rescind a settlement agreement [...] under these circumstances faces a steep uphill battle.
"With the help of a team of lawyers and a financial advisory, they made a deal that appears quite favorable in light of recent market activity."

A number of people connected with Facebook heaved a sigh of relief that this sorry tale was drawing to an end.

In one conversation I relayed the news from the Winklevoss lawyers that they weren't ready to lay down their arms yet. One ex-Facebooker said they just couldn't believe it and suggested it was time they "got a life" while another quipped perhaps it would be worthy of a movie.

The twins have refused all requests for interview but given vent to a small degree via Twitter. Tyler Winklevoss and his brother Cameron both linked to their lawyer's statement asking for a hearing in front of a larger panel of judges.

If they don't get any joy there, there is always the Supreme Court - a course that might seem extreme to some but not to the Winkelvoss twins who have pursued Mr Zuckberg for what is now amounting to a large chunk of their young adult life.


  • Comment number 1.

    the 65 mill ruling should be overturned the Winkles should give it all back to FB and stop whingeing

  • Comment number 2.

    How much free publicly do the Winklevoss's want? If they had half a brain between they would try channelling it into there own website, has anyone searched for connectU or Harvard connect predictably nothing more than a sob story that they were robbed comes up.

  • Comment number 3.

    Have the twins been wronged? Who knows!? However, they chose to settle and got $65 million. Their free choice. So it's a bit late now to turn around and say it's not enough. Like betting on a horse race, they punted that settling was their best shot. Crying like spoilt children that they've changed their minds changes nothing. It's a done deal. However their wealth and privilege mean that it won't stop them trying.

    Most people would learn a life lesson from this, however money gives them the option to avoid taking in on the chin. People with less wealth would have moved on, probably gaining more from the life experience than the twins ever will in financial terms.

    Life isn't fair. Get over it.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    These spoilt rich kids should be fined for wasting everyones' time. They were not wronged in any way. They did not develop facebook and they did not make it successful. They did nothing and should get nothing but a kick in the you know what.


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