Report: Facebook tried to buy StudiVZ

German rival, which Facebook recently sued, looks and feels just like Facebook. It's also likely the biggest obstacle to the social network's expansion in Germany.

The International Herald Tribune reported on Thursday that Facebook attempted to acquire a look-alike German social network before finally suing it in a federal court last month.

StudiVZ, a German site geared toward college students, is 10 times the size of Facebook's user base in Germany. It also looks just like Facebook, with a different color scheme, which is what ticked off the site's legal team. The court complaint, which called StudiVZ "a knockoff," says "a year and a half after the debut of Facebook's Web site, (it) was built by copying the look, feel, and features of Facebook.com."

The complaint continued: "Facebook is concerned that, because StudiVZ looks like Facebook, and incorporates similar features and functionality to Facebook, users will incorrectly believe that StudiVZ is associated with Facebook."

But according to sources who spoke to the IHT, Facebook first tried to acquire StudiVZ, which would have not only quelled the problem but also bought Facebook some major inroads in the German market. Parent company Georg von Holtzbrinck, however, wasn't satisfied with what Facebook was willing to pay. The German publishing company had acquired StudiVZ for the equivalent of $134 million early in 2007 and reportedly wanted significantly more than that in a hypothetical sale to Facebook.

Intellectual-property lawsuits are nothing unfamiliar at Facebook, which was sued years ago by the creators of onetime rival ConnectU, when they alleged that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had swiped their code and business plan. Facebook settled the lawsuit by effectively acquiring ConnectU for a combination of cash and stock.

But in this case, Facebook is the one crying foul. The IHT noted that because of international borders, it's unclear where this case will be tried. But it's more clear that this case has some foundation: StudiVZ's similarities to Facebook go right on down to the "poke." On the German site, that's called "gruscheln."

About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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