For Real? No Deal With Scrabulous?

Now that RealNetworks has launched Scrabble by Mattel, the fate of Facebook application Scrabulous looks grim. Earlier this year, 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 license.

RealNetworks had pledged to step up to negotiate a settlement between the two parties. Om speculated Real was trying to buy Scrabulous, but with the launch of Scrabble by Mattel, that’s clearly not happening. Was Real being disingenuous? Scrabulous was making about $25,000 a month in advertising, which could mean the price tag for Scrabulous was too high for Real, or Hasbro and Mattel just weren’t interested in playing.

Real certainly tries to foist the blame on the gaming giants in its statement to the New York Times:

RealNetworks said that “it is important to remember that even if we reach an arrangement with the Scrabulous owners, both Hasbro and Mattel must approve” any Scrabble-related game.

As sad as it might be for the 600,000 users of Scrabulous, this is a clear-cut case of infringement. Mattel and Hasbro could have done the easy thing and bought Scrabulous and its user base, but they’re well within their rights to launch Scrabble online. I’m not sure this proves that it’s hard to make money selling an application on Facebook, or if it just proves that it’s hard to make money off of someone else’s intellectual property on Facebook. For now, however, the Scrabulous founders are still in the game.

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