Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the twins who (along with their business partner Divya Narendra) accuse Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of stealing their idea, got a big write-up in The New York Times for their ongoing legal dispute with Facebook.
We’ve covered this case a number of times before. The twins settled with Facebook in 2008 for $20 million in cash and $45 million in Facebook shares, but tried to back out of the deal almost immediately when unflattering instant messages from Zuckerberg came to light. They moved forward with an appeal earlier this year, arguing that their shares might be worth much less than Facebook claimed, according to a valuation made at the time. (VentureBeat’s Owen Thomas argued that Facebook is “playing a dangerous game” by claiming that it had no obligation to disclose the lower valuation.)
So what’s new in the Times story? The legal details are pretty much the same, but Times reporter Miguel Helft interviewed the twins and offers a better sense of why they’re pursuing the appeal. After all, no matter what Facebook’s valuation was at the time, the “Winklevii” (the twins’ popular nickname from the movie The Social Network) seem guaranteed to make a bunch of cash from their shares once Facebook has an initial public offering. By throwing out the settlement, there’s a chance they could end up with nothing at all. But the twins said it’s about the principle, not the money.
“The principle is that they didn’t fight fair,” Tyler Winklevoss said. “The principle is that Mark stole the idea.”
The twins later told Helft (in unison!) that Zuckerberg only deserves credit for “not screwing up” their idea, and that if he hadn’t started Facebook, their site ConnectU could have been the one with hundreds of millions of users.
If we are to take the twins at their word, this helps explain why Facebook hasn’t been able to make this lawsuit go away. It’s not about money, but credit, and the fact that the Winklevii want to be more than footnotes in one of the tech world’s biggest success stories.