Facebook Loses Lawsuit Against German Clone StudiVZ

Every great invention is copied somewhere  on this planet. No, I’m not talking about in China but about Germany. Yes, you read correctly – Germany – the fatherland of modern innovation. In a ruling this week in a copyright infringement case, the State Court in Cologne, Germany ruled against Facebook for in favor of its “clone”, StudiVZ, which is home to a reported 13+ million German speaking social networkers. StudiVZ, which means “students’ directory”, was founded in 2005, roughly a year and change after Facebook was launched in 2004. Facebook didn’t launch a German version of its website until 2008. Facebook claims that StudiVZ copied the Facebook site, even using pieces of Facebook code and error messages that use the term “Fakebook” – likely an acknowledgement of the similarity between the two social network sites. StudiVZ was sold twice since its start, including in January 2007 for an estimated $100 million (85 million Euro) purchase price.

I haven’t yet received a copy of the complaint and whether the issue concerning Facebook is the allegation of StudiVZ copying actual Facebook code or whether it considers its own “innovations” to be unique and not the natural product of providing this kind of technology. From my research, apparently both arguments were made. With the launch of Friendster in 2002 and MySpace in 2003,  it is clear that other social networks and communities existed well prior to Facebook in 2004. Can Facebook be the first “true” iteration of social networking and a protectible product innovation? Mark Zuckerberg forked over $65 million to make such an issue go away, accused of pilfering the idea from his employer and leaving to apply it to a larger audience.

But in this case, Facebook does make a point – with every new feature Facebook puts out, it seems that a similar feature finds its way into the StudiVZ and is this right? Is it actionable? Facebook originally filed a lawsuit in California, leading StudiVZ to file in a German court in the hope of obtaining a “declaratory judgment” and asserting that Facebook’s claims lacked merit. The German court’s reasoning for its decision was that StudiVZ was not trying to unfairly pass itself off as Facebook. When it was founded in 2005, Facebook was virtually unknown in Germany. Facebook announced plans to potentially file an appeal in a higher German court but would be limited to only providing new evidence – perhaps a comparison of php files (a popular web programming language) to show that there was a direct infringement of copyright.

So let’s get to the fun stuff – looking at German clones (not humans, web sites) of Internet social networking and user generated content innovations and whether StudiVZ really goes too far in resembling Facebook. (My opinion is that the red color is positively irritating on the eyes – but that goes hand in hand with the German concept of “schadenfreude” or the reveling in the pain of others!)

This article is “tell and show” – before letting you do the fun final visual comparison of StudiVZ to Facebook, we’ll list the German equivalents of popular US web sites:

YouTube  = Sevenload
MySpace = UndDu
Flickr = Photocase
del.icio.us = Mister Wong
Yelp = Qype
Facebook = StudiVZ
Digg = Yigg
Blogger and LiveJournal = blog.de and twoday.net
Meebo = Mabber
Etsy      Dawanda
Cafepress      Spreadshirt
Slide      imageloop
Flixster      MoviePilot
Twitter      Frazr, Wamadu, Sloggen

screenshot_studivzfacebooksample

Perhaps another version in forest green would be nice?

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq.

Internet / Mobile entrepreneur since 1989, Intellectual Property attorney since the mid 1990s, former in-house counsel at iVillage.com, Senior Vice President of Business Strategy at Zedge, Co-Founder of the IDT Internet Mobile Group, E-Discovery expert and legal consultant with Kroll Ontrack, and owner and operator of TheLaw.com

Michael M. Wechsler, Esq. – who has written posts on The Law Professor.