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Chinese Web Site Rips Off Facebook

Law professor says infringes on Facebook’s copyright

By Yiming He, Contributing Writer

You can follow your friends’ activities on the “news feed,” you can post on their “wall,” and you can do the equivalent of a “poke.” But this isn’t the Facebook—it’s, one of China’s most popular online social-networking sites.

The site, with its white-and-blue color scheme, is nearly an exact replica of—and, according to a Harvard Law School professor, is an obvious infringement on Facebook’s copyright.

“If I were the general counsel of Facebook, I would take a hard look at suing Xiaonei for violating copyright, especially if Facebook has plans to enter the Chinese market itself,” said John G. Palfrey ’94, the executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a clinical law professor.

Palfrey said that it is up to the Facebook to make a claim against the Chinese company for copying its site.

“A bigger question is: assuming they win the merits, can this American company make a lawsuit against a Chinese company for copyright or trade dress violations?” he said.

Since its launch in 2005, Xiaonei—which was sold for an undisclosed sum to a competitor at the end of last year—has become the Facebook of China.

Tracy Tan, a senior in the prestigious Beijing University, said that Xiaonei is extremely popular among students in top colleges in China.

“All of my friends know it,” she said. “We find it most useful that we can get in touch with many students that we don’t usually have the chance to know elsewhere. The most powerful thing about Xiaonei is networking.”

The site, whose functions and structure are identical to the website founded by Mark E. Zuckerberg, formerly of the class of 2006, boasts one feature not on the Facebook: Users of Xiaonei can see who has recently viewed their profile.

Tan said that many Xiaonei users know of Facebook.

“Although it’s unwise for Xiaonei to copy another website, I still think [the site] has good original intentions to establish a platform for college students’ networking,” she said. “Especially, its exclusiveness of users and openness of information distinguishes itself from existing platforms like blogs and college BBS [bulletin board systems].”

In October, Xiaonei was acquired by Oak Pacific Interactive, a Chinese Internet company. Xing Wang, the site’s founder, wrote at the time on his blog that he was forced to sell his company because the site was strapped for cash.

“When our company has owed an amount ten times of my monthly salary, we don’t have much choice,” he said.

But he expressed optimism about the acquisition and the future of the site.

“Now that we have enough money to buy enough servers and rent enough broadband,” he said. “We hope we can provide better service for all of our users.”

Representatives from Facebook, Oak Pacific Interactive, and Xiaonei did not respond to requests for comment

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