Facebook.com’s rival social networking site, ConnectU LLC, has subpoenaed The Harvard Crimson for all materials related to the newspaper’s reporting on the two companies as part of an ongoing lawsuit in the U.S. District Court.
The move, if upheld by a judge, would require the newspaper to release all correspondences, e-mails, and notes of interviews its reporters had with either party by Dec. 1.
The creators of ConnectU LLC allege in their lawsuit that facebook.com creator, Mark E. Zuckerberg, stole the concept for his popular networking site from an earlier venture, Harvard Connection, and exploited his access to the ConnectU source code. Plaintiffs in the civil case—ConnectU LLC creators, Divya K. Narendra ’04, Cameron S. H. Winklevoss ’04, and Tyler O. H. Winklevoss ’04—are asking a United States District Court to shut down facebook.com and have the site cover their losses.
In their subpoenas, attorneys for the plaintiffs are asking the newspaper to provide them with all drafts of articles pertaining to the suit. They say that any lost, discarded, or destroyed material must be accounted for by The Crimson.
The Crimson’s president, Lauren A.E. Schuker ’06, said yesterday that the newspaper would not comply with the subpoena. She added that The Crimson planned to fight the subpoena on three grounds: because it seeks information that is not central to the parties’ claims, because compliance would compromise the newspaper’s independent role, and because the parties could easily obtain elsewhere the information material to their claims.
Zuckerberg, and his five business associates listed in the suit, have denied any wrongdoing and have argued in court documents that Harvard Connection was a dating site and not the facebook.com model of an information site with social networking capabilities.
“This is just part of the lawsuit that has been unfounded since the very beginning and it doesn’t seem to me to be a radical departure,” said Christopher R. Hughes ’06, spokesman for facebook.com.
ConnectU LLC founders Narendra did not return repeated telephone calls to his cell phone last night requesting comment. The other two ConnectU founders, the Winklevosses, did not return an e-mail requesting comment sent yesterday afternoon.
News organizations rarely are ordered to turn over documents, said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a Virginia-based advocacy group for student free-press rights.
“We’ve found that when [subpoenas] do happen, student news organizations have been able to get them quashed because they just don’t hold up,” he said. “In most civil cases that we’ve followed, there has been some protection that has prevented subpoenas from successfully requiring a news organization to turn over information.”
Although Massachusetts does not have a shield law designed specifically to protect reporters, and federal legislation to the same effect, though pending, has not passed Congress, Goodman said common law and court rules typically will support members of the press seeking to keep their records confidential.
“There’s basically a balancing of interest and the person seeking the information would typically have to show they have some pretty compelling evidence that the information is not available from any other source,” he said.
Director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy Alex S. Jones said The Crimson should dispute the subpoena.
“You can’t refuse to obey a subpoena,” he said. “That’s a great power, subpoena power. That’s why nobody likes to see a subpoena coming. [But] you can usually find a way to accommodate what is really needed or you can file a petition saying to the judge, ‘This is a fishing expedition. Why do they need this information from us?’”
—Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.