According to Greenspan, the story began when he was an
undergraduate at Harvard and created a website called "The
Facebook." One of his classmates, Mark Zuckerberg, sought
Greenspan's advice and copied his ideas, which led to the
founding of the phenomenally popular social networking site.
Greenspan charges that, as early as 2005, Zuckerberg was already
constructing a false narrative about the founding of Facebook. A
narrative that excluded Greenspan.
In order to correct what he saw as an injustice, Greenspan did
two things. First, he raised legal claims against Zuckerberg, which
resulted in a confidential settlement in May 2009. Second, he wrote
and published Autoritas, his own account of what actually
In 2008, Mezrich asked Greenspan for his cooperation in writing
a fictional account of the founding of Facebook. When Greenspan
refused, Mezrich went ahead with his own book anyway, citing
Autoritas as a secondary source. After Mezrich's book
and The Social Network became commercial successes,
Greenspan brought copyright infringement claims against Mezrich,
his publisher and the filmmakers.
Greenspan's principal allegation was that Mezrich had copied
Greenspan's account of his own meeting with Harvard President
Larry Summers in order to create a fictional account of a different
meeting with President Summers (one that didn't include
Greenspan). Greenspan's complaint contained about twenty statements
about this meeting which he alleged were copied by Mezrich, ranging
from a description of the office to his characterization of
President Summers as "chubby."
In order to prove copying in a copyright case, a plaintiff (in
lieu of evidence of actual copying) must show that the defendant
had access to the work, and that the works are substantially
similar. But unfortunately for Greenspan, the Judge found that the
two works just weren't that similar. Judge Collings first put
aside many of the plaintiff's alleged instances of copied
expression, holding that much of it was not protectable original
expression in the first place. For example, the statement,
"the president will see you now" is simply a
cliché to denote the start of a meeting; and fragmentary
words and phrases, such as the word "chubby" to describe
President Summers, or "African-American" to describe his
assistant's ethnicity, are not subject to copyright protection
as original expression.
Once this unoriginal expression was removed from the equation,
Judge Collings compared the protectable expression that was left
(such as the description of President Summer's unwelcoming
manner) as a whole against the defendant's work, and determined
that any copying that may have occurred was not so extensive that
an ordinary observer would find that the two works were
In addition to recommending the dismissal of Greenspan's
copyright claims, Judge Collings also recommended dismissal of his
remaining claims, which included defamation and false
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).