So I went to see the Social Network after hearing raving reviews from my friends about how perfect of a movie it was. And you know what? It actually was pretty sweet. It was inspiring and motivating to watch the story of guy close to my age who built a multi-billion dollar business in just a few short years! And, having similar ambitions myself, I enjoyed the movie.
The movie also highlighted some interesting issues such as intellectual property rights.. In the movie, (this is a spoiler for those who haven’t seen it yet!) Zuckerberg was hired by a couple of other Harvard students to create a college-based social network type of website for them. Seeing the seed of a good thing that was in their idea, Zuckerberg began building his own site which he would call, “The Facebook.” He built his site based off their idea which he had morphed into his own creation and used none of their original code in his site. The movie shows the court case wherein Zuckerberg is being sued by the other Harvard students who are alleging that he stole their idea.
As I said, this is an interesting issue! Can an idea be stolen? When we really get down to it, is there such a thing as a unique idea? Aren’t those people who create inventions or new ways of doing things really just improving upon something that is already there? As Zuckerberg’s character says in the movie, “A guy who makes a nice chair doesn’t owe money to everyone who has ever built a chair.” And he’s right isn’t he? However, on the other hand, would Zuckerberg ever have built Facebook had he not gotten the idea from the other Harvard students? We’ll never know!
Some ideas are of little consequence and others can build influence millions of people and billions of dollars. Either way, however, the ideas have to be acted upon in order to come to bear any fruit. And so it seems to be with Zuckerberg and Facebook, at least according to the movie. His character said, “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” If they really had the idea for Facebook but didn’t pursue it like Zuckerberg did, is that Zuckerberg’s fault? Does he owe them money for that? And doesn’t this apply in other situations as well?
If I have an idea for a business that I tell my buddy about and he goes out and does it, does he owe me a % of the company for giving him the idea? Can I claim that he stole my idea? Does it change the situation if I was actively working on the idea when I told him about it? What if he’s a better businessman that I am and he beats me out? Should I be upset? Anyway, the whole issue of intellectual property rights and who owns ideas is pretty interesting to me. If you’d like more information about this issue as it relates to the movie The Social Network I’d encourage you to read the great review of the movie done by Jeffrey A. Tucker of the Von Mises Institute of Economics. You can read the review here: http://mises.org/daily/4806