Last month, we wrote about another in the increasingly long list of Facebook creation story-related lawsuits. The plaintiff in that story was Aaron Greenspan, a college classmate of Mark Zuckerberg. While Greenspan was in school, he created a similar social network to what eventually became Facebook.
Greenspan alleges that he was unfairly omitted from The Social Network, the 2011 film purportedly telling the history of Facebook. Greenspan felt so jilted at being left out of the movie that he sued the company that published The Accidental Billionaires, on which the hit movie was based (affiliate links).
As of of our last story, Greenspan’s suit alleging “defamation by omission” had just been dismissed by a Massachusetts federal judge.
But he appealed the decision to the First Circuit. Over the weekend, he also emailed us, and gave us more detail about his story. Let’s check in and hear what he has to say, along with a colorful deposition story from the old ConnectU case. There’s more than meets the eye to this tenacious programmer turned Facebook nemesis…
I received the following email from Aaron Greenspan on Sunday afternoon (the entire note is reprinted on the following page):
In your article on May 14th (http://abovethelaw.com/2012/05/another-one-of-zuckerbergs-former-classmates-tries-and-fails-to-cash-in-on-facebook/) you portrayed me as a hanger-on trying to get rich off of a tenuous connection to Facebook. You also compared me to Paul Ceglia and the Winklevoss twins. You don’t have your facts straight, and the comparison is insulting.
First of all, I already settled with both Mark and Facebook in 2009, which I don’t think you mentioned in your post. See http://newsroom.fb.com/News/Facebook-and-Think-Computer-Corporation-Resolve-Trademark-Dispute-c6.aspx. While I certainly won’t complain if I’m ultimately awarded damages in the Mezrich case, your implied assertion that the suit is primarily motivated by money is not even close to true. I sued Mezrich because I’d had enough of listening to his lies and his three-hour interview on C-SPAN in November, 2011 was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
(For the record, I did briefly mention the settlement in the story. But that is neither here nor there.)
Greenspan says his fight is not simply not about the money. It’s about trying to correct big-picture unfairness that it seems has been difficult to escape:
I understand why you might be skeptical, but that’s exactly why I filed this suit. I shouldn’t be forced to battle that skepticism all my life.
For what it’s worth, shortly after we published our first story about Greenspan, a tipster wrote to us who has a fairly impressive view of Zuckerberg’s former classmate:
Extremely interesting guy. I know the lawsuit you wrote about is pretty frivolous, but he is only pursuing it because he really was kind of screwed in a way.
Aaron… wrote software that was way ahead of its time and really did everything and more that “The Facebook” did at Harvard. When Aaron was at Harvard, it morphed into a system that allowed classmates to share reviews about classes and buy and sell used textbooks. There is no doubt in my mind that Zuckerberg borrowed — stole, if you will — fundamental aspects from Greenspan’s system when Zuckerberg designed his.
Now, the design elements were not patented or copyrighted, so Greenspan was not able to pursue a lawsuit, but I can see why it would be pretty tough for him to sit and watch Zuckerberg become as wealthy and famous as he is while Greenspan became just another “classmate.” I suspect that Greenspan has more raw intelligence when it comes to coding. So, I think that is important insight into the BS lawsuit about defamation by omission. Greenspan is really upset that history, wealth and fame have omitted him.… Alas, life is not fair.
UPDATE (6:32 PM): Greenspan had this to say about our tipster’s note: “houseSYSTEM [the program he designed that, as the New York Times reported in 2007, was in some ways similar to Facebook] was copyrighted. I didn’t pursue a lawsuit because there weren’t any lawyers who would give me the time of day, and I didn’t know enough back then to do it myself.”
Our tipster also provided a comical, somewhat impressive anecdote about Greenspan:
There also is a funny story I heard about a deposition in the Connect U case. The lawyers had technical problems, and Aaron took it upon himself to solve the issue.He unplugged a cord and all the lawyers gasped because they feared that the transcript and/or recording from the day’s session was lost. One of the lawyers questioned him about it, and Aaron looked at him condescendingly and said, “I think I know what I’m doing….”
Later, they plugged in a computer with a projector so they could pull up some code and question Aaron about it. With a keyboard in front of him, he took all of about 3 minutes to hack into the law firm’s system and display their files on the screen, again to the horror of the lawyers. The lawyer I talked to said it was a pretty amusing moment and did highlight his computer acumen.
UPDATE (6:32 PM): For his part, Greenspan says he does not remember this happening at the ConnectU deposition.
Check out Greenspan’s brief (and the appendix) in the defamation-by-omission case, which he filed pro se on June 13. To be fair, it is a bit dense and hard to follow. And it’s not the only Facebook-related litigation he is still involved in. Greenspan is also involved fighting Facebook about a program he created called FaceCash. As Greenspan explained in a follow-up email:
After the settlement with Facebook in 2009, I began building a mobile payment system called FaceCash (http://www.facecash.com), and planned to release other products that made productive use of facial recognition technology as well. (Well before Facebook, Inc. was around, I took a course on the psychology of facial recognition freshman year in college, and ended up building http://www.faceblind.org, so it’s been an interest of mine for a while.) I registered a few trademarks with the USPTO accordingly. Facebook opposed one of them, for FACEMAIL. The docket is located at http://ttabvue.uspto.gov/ttabvue/v?pno=91198355&pty=OPP. It’s not related to Mezrich at all, and only tangentially relates to the settlement issues.
As it so happens, FaceCash is also tied up in litigation now, but that’s a whole different story unrelated to anything else. You can find that at https://www.facecash.com/legal/brown.html. It’s probably the most interesting and under-reported story of them all.
Who knows where this clearly intelligent, combative programmer will end up. I’m not sure what the lesson here is, if there’s anything to be learned all. Maybe — especially if some of his claims are really true — it’s that life just isn’t fair.
But to put a positive spin on it, you could quote John Updike, describing the best qualities in his famous character, Rabbit Angstrom: “[Y]ou haven’t given up. In your stupid way you’re still fighting.”
Go through to the next page to see Greenspan’s original email, more links to court documents, and links to his personal project websites…