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Facebook seeks dismissal of copyright suit

ConnectU's claims don't link website to illegality, it says

NEW YORK - Facebook Inc., the social-networking website being sued over allegations that it was built on stolen computer code, has asked a judge to throw out the lawsuit, which was filed by a smaller rival, ConnectU Inc.

The "shotgun" allegations in ConnectU's suit failed to properly tie Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and other managers to the alleged wrongdoing, Facebook stated yesterday in a motion to dismiss the case in US District Court in Boston.

ConnectU's complaint "contains a litany of unrelated facts and legal theories that fail to identify what role the individual defendants have played in any wrongdoing or violation of ConnectU's rights," Facebook stated.

The dispute is playing out as websites jockey for position in the online social-networking market, which will more than double its display-advertising revenue to $900 million next year and reach $2.5 billion in 2011, according to a New York research firm, EMarketer Inc.

Facebook is the most popular social-networking site, after News Corp.'s MySpace.

Closely held ConnectU, based in Cambridge, and its founder, Cameron Winklevoss, sued in March. They accuse Facebook, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., of copyright infringement, breach of contract, fraud, and theft of trade secrets.

It's the latest development in a dispute that began in 2004, when ConnectU first sued amid Facebook's growing popularity. That case was dismissed in March on procedural grounds.

John F. Hornick, ConnectU's lawyer, and Facebook spokeswoman Erin Zeitler declined to comment.

ConnectU's newer complaint failed to describe the so-called "expressive elements" of the code protected under copyright law, and instead offered only functional descriptions of the code, Facebook stated in court papers.

ConnectU claims that code ultimately used for Facebook.com was developed starting in 2003 by Winklevoss, Zuckerberg, and others at Harvard University to launch a site called Harvard Connection.

Zuckerberg has maintained that Facebook's code was developed independently. In the motion to dismiss the case, he stated that ConnectU failed to prove that code for the competing sites was similar or that details, including so-called "graphical user interfaces," or Web page links, were alike.

This month, ConnectU added as defendants Facebook officials Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, and Andrew McCollum, who helped build and expand the site beyond Harvard after Zuckerberg founded it in 2004.

The websites are facing off in another suit in federal court in San Jose, Calif., where Facebook sued ConnectU in March. ConnectU is accused of using Facebook members' logins and passwords to gather information and lure them to the competing site.

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