Facebook ownership claimant fined

A man who is suing for part ownership of Facebook has been fined $5,000 for failing to fully comply with a court order to give experts access to his email accounts.

Paul Ceglia also was ordered to pay Facebook's court costs in trying to obtain the material, which Facebook said would help expose Ceglia's case as a fraud.

US Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio said Ceglia had delayed the case by failing to produce his email addresses and passwords dating to 2003 while his lawyers unsuccessfully challenged the August order as an invasion of privacy.

"For whatever reasons, plaintiff, fully advised by his lawyers not to do so, chose to knowingly ignore the unambiguous orders of the court," Foschio wrote.

The fine is "designed to coerce plaintiff's future compliance with all court orders in this case," he said.

The judge declined to take disciplinary action against the attorneys, who have since withdrawn from the case.

Ceglia's current lawyer, Dean Boland, said that Ceglia would pay the fine and comply with all future court orders. Facebook has since been given the email account information it sought, he said.

"People need to have respect for court orders, so I don't have a problem with the court being upset if it feels its orders have not been followed," said the Ohio attorney, who began representing Ceglia in October.

Ceglia's lawsuit in US District Court claims that when he hired Zuckerberg to help him develop a street-mapping database in 2003, he gave the then-Harvard University freshman US$1,000 in start-up money for his fledgling Facebook idea in exchange for half ownership of the company. Palo Alto, California-based Facebook is now estimated to be worth more than $50 billion.

The court case so far has focused exclusively on the authenticity of a two-page work-for-hire contract that Ceglia says proves his claims, along with a series of follow-up emails he says he and Zuckerberg exchanged.

Facebook's attorneys have said they will soon move to have the case dismissed based on their experts' findings that the documents are fake.

In a separate order Tuesday, Foschio denied a request by Boland to sanction Facebook's lawyers for failing to disclose the existence of five computers used by Zuckerberg at Harvard that he said might contain emails between Zuckerberg and Ceglia. The judge said the attorneys hadn't violated any court order.

A Facebook spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

- AP

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