Facebook given green light for contact-poaching case against ConnectU

Facebook has been allowed to proceed with a law suit against a company which it believes wrote software to gain unauthorised access to Facebook address books in order to promote rival firm ConnectU.

ConnectU is the firm that is suing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in a separate case. Its founders claim Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from them.

A judge in the US District Court for the Northern District of California said that the Court does have jurisdiction over the case and that it can proceed.

Facebook is suing Pacific Northwest Software (PNS), PNS employee Winton Williams and ConnectU over its claims that ConnectU hired PNS to write software called Importer, which was designed to gain unauthorised access to address books in Facebook and other social networking sites.

According to Facebook's suit, other PNS-developed software, the 'Social Butterfly' program, then sent messages to a user's friends appearing to come from that user inviting them to the rival ConnectU platform.

Facebook claims that elements of the software were designed specifically for its platform and to evade detection by it.

PNS and Williams are based in Washington and had wanted the Court to find that they were outside of its jurisdiction. But in a ruling that could be critical for e-commerce and internet related law suits, Judge Richard Seeborg has said that they are within the Californian Court's jurisdiction.

Previous court rulings said that jurisdiction could be asserted over someone who lived outside of a jurisdiction if they had committed an act against someone inside it and knew that the other party lived inside the court's jurisdiction.

"As the California Supreme Court has observed, however, 'the so-called internet revolution has spawned a host of new legal issues as courts have struggled to apply traditional legal frameworks to this new communication medium'," said Seeborg's ruling. "This case presents such a new issue."

"Specifically, the internet permits a person to carry out conduct expressly aimed at a specific person or entity in another forum that causes harm in that forum without having express knowledge as to the geographical location of the person or entity being affected. This phenomena has no readily apparent direct analog in the pre-internet world," he said.

"Reconciling 'traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice' that underlie all jurisdictional analysis with the established tests for personal jurisdiction … the Court finds that a defendant need not have knowledge as to which geographic forum the plaintiff resides in, so long as the conduct was aimed at and likely to cause harm in that forum. On the particular facts here, therefore, the Court finds that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over PNS and Williams is appropriate."

Seeborg said that whereas in the past targeted action demanded that a person know another person's location, that was no longer true, and an internet address replaced a physical address in many cases.

He said that the realities of internet business should not excuse PNS and Williams from sanctions they would otherwise face.

"The mere fact that the internet provided PNS and Williams [with] a tool by which they could carry out their conduct against Facebook without first making efforts to learn its geographic location is not a reason to excuse them from jurisdiction to which they would otherwise be subject," he said.