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Removal of Scrabulous

Facebook Users Mourning the Removal of Scrabulous

August 14, 2008

In 2005 the book Word Freak and the subsequent documentary Word Wars showcased the zeal of Scrabble players. Scrabble aficionados joined the virtual world in 2006 when the Scrabulous application was added to Facebook. The application allowed Facebook users to play a game remarkably like Scrabble online. Scrabulous was developed by two Indian computer programmers, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla. According to the Guardian, Scrabulous had over 500,000 daily users. The popular application was apparently earning $25,000 USD from online ad revenues.

In late July, Hasbro, who owns the North American IP rights to Scrabble, ordered Facebook to remove the Scrabulous application. Scrabulous users are enraged and have created several fan groups dedicated to keeping the application going. Last week a new version of Scrabulous returned. It has a different name, Wordscrapper, and some key formatting changes. It has yet to be seen whether these changes are enough to keep the application from infringing. Scrabble has also launched their own application on Facebook. At the moment, Wordscrapper is considerably more popular than Scrabble boasting 169,000 users compared to the official versions mere 69,000 active players.

Part of the controversy in this case lies in the fact that an idea can not be copyrighted; only the expressions of an idea can. So basically Hasbro can not own the idea of a game where you get points for spelling words. That being said Hasbro still has a strong case against the Agarwallas who essentially copied many elements of the game which are protected by IPRs; including the look, the rules, and the point system. One of the main issues in this case is that Scrabulous users could be confused and think that it has been officially sanctioned or is connected with Hasbro’s Scrabble.

Public image must be taken in account when launching this kind of a lawsuit and a lot of people are wondering if Hasbro made the right decision. Their lawsuit against the Agarwallas has generated a lot of bad press. A better strategy might have been to buy the application outright. It will remain to be seen how much damage the lawsuit does to Hasbro but one doubts that it will keep many of the so called work freaks from their Scrabble boards virtual or otherwise.

For a further look, click herehere or here.

Official link to Scrabble