Home > Business Ethics > A Social ‘Theft’work?

A Social ‘Theft’work?

The Winklevoss twins represent two enemies that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made in the process of designing The Social Network (2010). Did Zuckerberg steal the inspiration for Facebook from the brothers’ idea for their website? The answer may hinge on the divisive issue of intellectual property.

The debate centers around the intrinsic right to own non-tangible, creative ideas. According to traditional patent, trademark, and copyright laws, intellectual property represents real ownership of intangible assets. Dissidents like Richard Stallman−a software freedom activist−argue that intellectual property creates a ‘bias’ toward property rights by confusing non-physical monopolies with ownership of physical things.

Regarding the creation of Facebook, courtroom and journalistic evidence shows no formal contract between Zuckerberg and the Winklevosses . . . only interesting and entertaining “dorm-room chit-chat.” A mere week after beginning what Zuckerberg referred to as ‘the dating site,’ he started working on a separate ‘Facebook’ project. Zuckerberg appears to have considered the two as competing for the same users’ attention, but also seems to have regarded them as different in key ways. While Zuckerberg does appear to have intentionally strung along the twins with the goal of making his own project the more successful launch, the Winklevosses $65 million lawsuit settlement seems more than fair−especially considering that the entire dispute took place over two months in 2004 and that in the years since, Zuckerberg has built Facebook into a massive global enterprise.

The Winklevoss twins are demanding that the case be reopened not for money but for honor. If there is no such thing as intellectual property rights, then there was nothing to steal and additional demands represent mere ego and greed. If intellectual property represents real ownership of intangible assets, then the battle between information highway robbery and issues of gentlemanly agreement should return to the top of Facebook’s News Feed.

Update: the Winklevoss suit against Facebook was thrown out by a federal judge in Boston as reported on July 22, 2011.

  1. Mark Heinzig
    March 23rd, 2011 at 09:30 | #1

    Have you noticed the tendency of IP [Intellectual Property] protections to expand in duration and scope? It trends towards expanding monopolies in the form of copyright extensions and business methods / software patents, but harming public interest. I’m not a socialist, nor advocating removal of IP law to erode the entrepreneur or inventor; though I am in favor of more clearly defining/restricting it.

    Here’s a classical illustration of how IP infringes on the right to own tangible property: Imagine the time when men lived in caves. One bright guy called Galt-Magnon decides to build a log cabin on an open field near his crops. Others notice this good idea and naturally imitate Galt-Magnon, building their own cabins. But the first man to invent a house, according to IP advocates, would have a right to prevent others from building houses on their own land with their own logs, or to charge them a fee if they do build houses. It is plain that the innovator in these examples becomes a partial owner of the tangible property (e.g., land and logs) of others, due not to first occupation and use of that property (for it is already owned), but due to his coming up with an idea. Clearly, this rule flies in the face of the first-user homesteading rule, arbitrarily and groundlessly overriding the foundation of all property rights.

    • April 15th, 2011 at 13:33 | #2

      Benefiting the few at the expense of the many does seem to be a common theme in light of the recent financial meltdown. For Galt-Magnon, would you recommend a restriction on his owning tangible property, like logs and land, but protections toward a particular method or technique of building his log cabin?

  2. September 29th, 2011 at 17:04 | #3

    Those twins got more than they deserved for their idea. There wasn’t a contract, he [Zuckerberg] created his own code, and the only thing you can pin him with is being deceitful.

  1. No trackbacks yet.