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Summary:

What will become of Scrabulous? The brilliant Facebook app created by two young Indian brothers has attracted enormous popularity — and with it, a nastygram from Hasbro and Mattel, two of the corporations that hold the IP rights to the classic Scrabble board game on which […]

scrabulous.jpgWhat will become of Scrabulous? The brilliant Facebook app created by two young Indian brothers has attracted enormous popularity — and with it, a nastygram from Hasbro and Mattel, two of the corporations that hold the IP rights to the classic Scrabble board game on which it’s based. When I interviewed Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla for GigaOM last fall, they told me that no Scrabble-protecting lawyer had yet come calling — but unsurprisingly, that quickly changed.

None of the companies involved seem to be talking. News.com’s Caroline McCarthy, for example, sought but failed to get comments from Facebook and Hasbro; there was also no reply from Electronic Arts, the publisher who holds the online rights to Scrabble. (EA has a web version called Scrabble Blast on Pogo, the company’s casual game site, but judging from the description, Scrabulous has far more functionality and features.)

The Argwalla brothers’ version also boasts hundreds of thousands of daily players, and the Facebook group “Save Scrabulous,” which aims to enjoin people to contact Hasbro, now has over 33,000 members. (It had just 7,000 on Wednesday.) At this point, the whole imbroglio looks like yet one more object lesson in intellectual property rights chaos: When the rights holder fails to create a compelling online version of their IP, someone else will.

I contacted the Argwallas for this post. They declined to comment at first (as they have with other outlets), but when I asked them about their tens of thousands of supporters, Rajat finally offered this obscure koan: “The only message for Scrabulous fans is, “Have fun and BE SCRABULOUS!'”

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  1. They have Scrabble game for Palm, but they cost about $14 or more. Unless there is a paid subscription Hasbro won’t allow this free version. Unfortunately they have the rights and they can bring it down. I hope the two can come up with games on their own and not have to face these idiots.

  2. I imagine Hasbro et al think they can chill Facebook into taking the site down and tie it up in litigation while they develop their own version for MySpace or perhaps put a stop to the litigation in return for Fb using their application.

  3. Hasbro owns the rights, and that’s all that matters. Stop trying to feel sympathetic for two guys who violated these ritghts, most likely unintentionally. Still, the bottom line is, it’s not their game, it’s not their concept, so it does not belong to them.

  4. Just what “rights” does Hasbro own? According to the US Copyright office:

    The idea for a game is not protected by copyright. The same is true of the name or title given to the game and of the method or methods for playing it.

    Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in the development, merchandising, or playing of a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles.

    http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html

  5. What would (should) become of Scrabulous, the widely popular Facebook app? : Alootechie Thursday, January 24, 2008

    [...] will become of Scrabulous? asks GigaOM. Scrabulous is in news for a number of reasons. First, it’s the only Indians-created Facebook app [...]

  6. Will RealNetworks Buy Scrabulous? – GigaOM Sunday, March 2, 2008

    [...] The legal troubles of the game cooked up by Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, two brothers living in Calcutta, have been well chronicled, most recently by The New York Times. The game which has about 700,000 daily players brings in about $25,000 in monthly advertising revenues from online advertising. [...]

  7. For Real? No Deal With Scrabulous? – GigaOM Monday, April 7, 2008

    [...] Scrabulous, which is … um…inspired by Scrabble, found itself on the receiving end of a shutdown threat from Mattel and Hasbro, holders of the Scrabble [...]

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