Facebook claims 'smoking gun' in Ceglia lawsuit

Court documents contend N.Y. man isn't owed part of the social network

Facebook attorneys filed court documents Monday contending they have found "smoking-gun evidence" in a lawsuit over whether a New York man is due part ownership of the social networking company.

Paul D. Ceglia of Wellsville, N.Y., first filed a lawsuit in June 2010 against Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, claiming he was entitled to 84% ownership of what has grown to become the world's largest social networking site. In an amended filing this spring, Ceglia claimed he was owed 50% of Zuckerberg's stake in the social networking company.

Ceglia claimed he had email evidence from 2003 showing that Zuckerberg, who was a student at Harvard University at the time, promised him a stake in the company in exchange for doing design and programming work on the fledgling site.

Facebook is saying its lawyers have uncovered an "authentic" contract that shows that Ceglia isn't owed any part of Facebook.

The document that Facebook filed with the court is a contract for work being done by Zuckerberg on Ceglia's business, StreetFax.com. The document does not mention Facebook.

"The court-ordered forensic testing has uncovered the authentic contract between Mark Zuckerberg and StreetFax that Ceglia attempted to conceal," Facebook lawyers wrote in a document filed with the U.S. District Court in the Western District of New York. "This smoking-gun evidence confirms what Defendants have said all along: the purported contract attached to the complaint is an outright fabrication."

The Facebook lawyers also accuse Ceglia of concealing or even destroying relevant documents, including six missing USB drives.

Ceglia could not be reached for comment.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group, noted that just because Facebook found one contract between Zuckerberg and Ceglia that had nothing to do with Facebook, that doesn't mean they didn't enter into another agreement for different work. And that work could have been about Facebook.

"Who knows how many projects they worked on back then," Kerravala said. "The existence of this one doesn't mean a Facebook-specific one doesn't exist."

He added that the document doesn't help Facebook much, other than enabling the company to gain some favorable headlines in the news media about the case.

Kerravala said in a previous interview that if the two parties reach a settlement in the case, it's likely to hit Zuckerberg much harder than it would hit Facebook as a whole.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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