Scrabble vs. Scrabulous
January 17, 2008 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Toymakers Hasbro and Mattel claim that the popular online game Scrabulous (available on Facebook) infringes on the trademark for the board game Scrabble. They have not yet filed suit, but have asked Facebook to desist in its alleged infringement. Scrabulous is one of the top ten plug-ins on the site, developed by brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla in Calcutta, India. "There has been speculation that the challenge to Scrabulous had been launched as Hasbro and Mattel prepare their own online version of Scrabble." Electronic Arts holds the license to the electronic rights to Scrabble. Facebook users are rallying to save the game.

Related AskMe thread.
posted by ericb (94 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
In a silghtly unrelated note, it seems that EA owns some kind of rights for every frickin computer game out there.
posted by jmd82 at 2:31 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also -- Scrabulous.com.
posted by ericb at 2:31 PM on January 17, 2008


I didn't realize Mattel bought Scrabble. They definitely didn't own it ten years ago.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:32 PM on January 17, 2008


The evidence I have on hand (my Scrabble set) indicates that the game is published by Selchow & Righter.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:34 PM on January 17, 2008


I didn't realize Mattel bought Scrabble. They definitely didn't own it ten years ago.

"Hasbro owns rights to the game in the US and Canada while Mattel has rights everywhere else in the world."*
posted by ericb at 2:35 PM on January 17, 2008


So, Literati on Yahoo Games - is that operated under some kind of license, or is it "just different enough" to escape their wrath?
posted by Jimbob at 2:38 PM on January 17, 2008


Scrabble history.
"In 1953, unable to meet demand himself, Brunot sold manufacturing rights to Selchow and Righter (one of the manufacturers who, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company, had previously rejected the game). J. W. Spear & Sons began selling the game in Australia and the UK on January 19, 1955. They are now a subsidiary of Mattel, Inc. In 1986, Selchow and Righter sold the game to Coleco, who soon after sold the game to Hasbro."
posted by ericb at 2:38 PM on January 17, 2008


SCRABBLE® is a registered trademark. All intellectual property rights in and to the game are owned in the U.S.A and Canada by Hasbro Inc., and throughout the rest of the world by J.W. Spear & Sons Limited of Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc. Mattel and Spear are not affiliated with Hasbro.*
posted by ericb at 2:41 PM on January 17, 2008


Is this something I would need a Facebook account to care about?
posted by pieoverdone at 2:41 PM on January 17, 2008


No, you can also play it on the external Scrabulous site.
posted by jejune at 2:43 PM on January 17, 2008


thank christ. I'm tired of getting those emails telling me I haven't played a move in 2 weeks and my opponents are getting uppity.
posted by shmegegge at 2:44 PM on January 17, 2008


I don't disagree with Hasbro on this -- I've wondered why they were letting Scrabulous exist since it's clearly a violation.

At the same time, it's kind of a dumbass move, unless it's just a tactic in their negotiations to buy Scrabulous. Because people who I would never in a million years imagine playing Scrabble play Scrabulous. And now they've started playing real Scrabble, too.

I play twice a month with a group of friends in the real world. We've bought new scrabble boards and dictionaries -- all properly licensed -- totally as a result of playing each other on Scrabulous.

Putting out their own version instead of buying the one that already exists and its player base and the good will that's out there isn't going to win them any friends.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:46 PM on January 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


"In addition to Scrabulous' own troubles, the situation calls into question a host of potential legal landmines for Facebook, which allows programmers to develop and upload all sorts of applications to the social networking site.

'The big issue here is what this implies for Facebook,' said Tom Hemnes, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in copyright and trademark law. 'If I were betting on this, if the case came to litigation or settlement, [I would bet] that Facebook would lose. They are indirectly associated with the name Scrabble to attract viewers to their site, and that would be trademark infringement.'"*
posted by ericb at 2:47 PM on January 17, 2008


They should have had a bunch of online versions years ago. Like I actually wanted to play Literati. Pfft.
posted by cashman at 3:02 PM on January 17, 2008


Buying Scrabulous would be an unwise move for Hasbro, because it would encourage copying their other games -- there's already a copy of Boggle on Facebook, too. (Hell, buying Scrabulous might even encourage more copies of Scrabble.) They're just be setting themselves up to to spending money everytime somebody copies them -- which is pretty much the exact opposite of what copyrights and trademarks are for. Scrabulous should sending Hasbro money, not the other way around.

If Hasbro actually wants the Scrabulous user base (which I rather doubt) the best strategies are to either sue Scrabulous into bankruptcy (and pick up the assets as part of a judgment), or bully them into giving Hasbro the app as part of a pre-trial settlement. That way, they get the users, and warn other developers not to mess with Hasbro trademarks.

This could have some longterm consequences for Facebook applications. There are a lot of Facebook "fan" apps that could be seen as at least marginally infringing on copyright -- quizes, quote generators, badges, and whatnot inspired by TV shows and movies. (Also, lots of classic videogame knockoffs.) If Facebook is liable for infringement in the Scrabulous case, they could be liable for hundreds of stupid apps.

(As an aside, Yahoo's Literati probably is different enough to be lawsuit-proof. Copyright protections in the United States for "rules" are relatively weak, and you can't really copyright an 'idea of a game' like "making words." Dumb things like the name "Scrabulous" and copying the game board are what's going to get Scrabulous into trouble.)
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 3:11 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


What Jacquilynne said. Some of the kids I have worked with proudly mentioned how they convinced a teacher to let them play Scrabble during study hall, and they got the idea from Facebook. If they're really worried about infringement, they're assholes. And if this is just a step on their way to monetizing it, they are fucking morons.
posted by SassHat at 3:19 PM on January 17, 2008


I love online Scrabble, but I play using the downloadable program from ISC.ro instead. Hopefully that's not big enough for Hasbro or Mattel to get wind of. Or maybe that's why they operate from Romania, I dunno.

By the way, how does intellectual property work for a board game? Wiki says Scrabble was invented in 1938 (first called "Scrabble" a decade later). If it's a trademark issue, can't the Agarwalla brothers just rebrand the app ("wordquiz" or somesuch) and continue using it? Or is it an issue about the actual game mechanics?
posted by afx237vi at 3:22 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


This sucks, but it does remind me to go play my turns...
posted by schyler523 at 3:22 PM on January 17, 2008


It doesn't help their cause that when you ask to see the rules, they send you to the Scrabble Wikipedia page.
posted by Gary at 3:24 PM on January 17, 2008


Oh, and if hasbro and mattel start operating scrabulous as their own, i will not ever play again...

fuck them...
posted by schyler523 at 3:24 PM on January 17, 2008


I don't see assholes. I see intellectual property owners defending a very valuable asset. They own a lot of other trademarks and copyrights in a business (toys) very much based on seeing how close to the line you can get when you copy someone else's success and cash in on a fad they started. (Barbie, anyone? Lego? Anyone can think of a doll or a block; the branding of the toy is the way desire and a competitive market position are created and maintained.)

I'd say it reminds me of other debates about intellectual property rights in the digital and networked world, but the last time I brought that up I got yelled at. I still maintain the position that just because something is online doesn't mean it doesn't belong to someone.

What's more telling here is the obvious foolishness of the Facebook team, and consequently, the evidence that they are not mature managers, or being advised by more mature managers. This was very obviously going to risk trouble (as faster said above, there are a lot of other potential examples on Facebook). They're artificially over-valued without real assets to back that valuation up, and (some say) not even a profit to show for it yet, just a big blank check from Microsoft.

Microsoft takes more care to protect its intellectual property than any toy company. Where the heck were the professionals here?
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:29 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


The big issue here is what this implies for Facebook,' said Tom Hemnes, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in copyright and trademark law. 'If I were betting on this, if the case came to litigation or settlement, [I would bet] that Facebook would lose. They are indirectly associated with the name Scrabble to attract viewers to their site, and that would be trademark infringement.

I don't think it implies any problems for Facebook, unless they're monstrously stupid enough to let Scrabulous stay on their system after a C&D is sent out. I love Scrabulous and am pissed it's going away, but come on- I knew from day one it was only a matter of when Hasbro decided that had to stop. It was a fun ride, but Scrabulous isn't even a derivative of Scrabble- it's Scrabble, in every single remotely calculable form.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:31 PM on January 17, 2008


The website has 20,000 registered users, but after the developers made an application for the popular social networking website Facebook it has been added to 840,000 user pages and more than 500,000 daily users, giving it "the most active users of any game that can be played over Facebook". -- Wikipedia

Holy cow. That's some numbers in a situation where Facebook's exposure may be dependent on the numbers.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:36 PM on January 17, 2008


If Hasbro doesn't protect their trademark, then it becomes worthless. If the Scrabble name and board are genericized, then they won't be able to sue ripoffs in the future either. The entire membership of Facebook could boycott them because of this, and it wouldn't hurt them as much as allowing this to continue.
posted by grouse at 3:40 PM on January 17, 2008


"Buying Scrabulous would be an unwise move for Hasbro, because it would encourage copying their other games"

I'm not so sure. They can either spend millions on lawyers and look like they're spoiling everyone's fun, or spend what's probably a comparable amount of money to quickly buy them out, in which case everyone except the lawyers would get a great outcome.

As for encouraging other infringements, well the worst that happens is that you have some failed rip-offs (no need to bother chasing after those), and a few successes similar to Scrabulous that they can then decide to license, buy or sue. I'm not convinced that wasting time and money trying to 'damp down' online infringement instead of actually doing constructive stuff is an effective strategy; just look at the music industry over the past ten years.
posted by malevolent at 3:43 PM on January 17, 2008


Crap, there goes the only thing I like about Facebook.
posted by rottytooth at 3:43 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't think it implies any problems for Facebook, unless they're monstrously stupid enough to let Scrabulous stay on their system after a C&D is sent out.

I'm not sure Scrabulous could really be described as 'on their system'. Third party apps seem to be hosted on third party servers--Scrabulous itself went through massive amounts of pain with their servers for a couple of months last year. Facebook just sort of passes the third party stuff through.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:45 PM on January 17, 2008


The only grounds that Hasbro has is on trademark grounds, which would include the name of the game, and the image of the board, which can be both copyrighted and trademarked. You cannot copyright the rules of game.

The look of the board in Scabulous is, IMHO, sufficiently different from the original; the squares are not labelled 'double word score', etc., nor do the bonus squares have the 'wedges' on each side.

Way back in the depths of time, pre-Web users played Scrable online via Telnet on systems like WisDOOM and MarlDOOM. On these sites, you needed to actually design your board before playing, by assigning certin bonuses to certain squares and then saving the board. Thus, no infringment by the host. This has continued to today, with powerful freeware software like Quackle, where you must do the same thing.

On issues of trademark, Hasbro may not even have a case, due to the Anti-Monopoly suit.

Because of the Scrabulous issue, there has also been a push by Mattel to look more closely at ISC, the Romanian-hosted online site frequented by the best tournament players in the world.

Sure, Hasbro and Mattel may feel the need to protect their IP, but in the grand scheme, Scrabulous has been the largest single influx of new players into the game in the game's history. These new players are making them a metric fuckton of cash. And getting rid of ISC without replacing it with a similarly robust system (ISC has features which detect cheating, for example) will devastate the tournament scene; how will (say) Joel Sherman (former National and World Champion, of NYC) be able to play (say) Nigel Richards (current World Champion, out of New Zealand) in an online setting friendly to spectators? All previous online implementations of Scrabble -- The Zone, games.com, etc., have failed miserably for serious, non-casual players. Already, serious tournament players are threatening to boycott this year's Nationals if Hasbro shuts down either site.

It is in Hasbro's best interests, I think, to let this one go.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:49 PM on January 17, 2008 [10 favorites]


Facebook just sort of passes the third party stuff through.

Since Facebook created an API and granted rights for apps like Scrabulous to work with FB's userbase, and because they have not yet taken Scrabulous down despite the cease-and-desist they've received, I'd wonder if they are not at least partially liable for continuing to enable the copyright infringement.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:56 PM on January 17, 2008


It's in Hasbro's best interests to not shut down a violation of their trademark that could be bringing them loads of money because of the devastating revenue loss that could result from outrage in the... professional Scrabble players circuit?

Unless one out of every three American homes is involved in tournament play, I do not think "typical market" means what you think it means.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:57 PM on January 17, 2008


The look of the board in Scabulous is, IMHO, sufficiently different from the original; the squares are not labelled 'double word score', etc., nor do the bonus squares have the 'wedges' on each side.

Are you serious? Then check out my new game Monopolist; the highest-priced property in the game is Boardrun, it's in the Navy Blue group.

I love Scrabulous and am slightly addicted, but it's definitely infringing as all hell.
posted by kyleg at 4:03 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's in Hasbro's best interests to not shut down a violation of their trademark that could be bringing them loads of money because of the devastating revenue loss that could result from outrage in the... professional Scrabble players circuit?

I'm not sure how you get that from what I wrote. Didn't even mention the 'typical market'. Especially unclear why you quoted it. Also didn't say anything about 'professionals' -- probably because there are none.

Scrabulous brings in new players. These new players bring in money for Hasbro through the purchase of games. This is money that Hasbro would not otherwise have gotten.

ISC fosters tournament players. These players bring publicity to the game; without serious players, there would be no Word Freak, or Word Wars, or Scrabylon. These players mentor other players. These players' clubs bring in more players; this is why Hasbro fund the National Scrabble Association -- they don't do it out of the goodness of their hearts. These players should not be pissed off. Hasbro will lose money by driving them away.

Hasbro makes money indirectly from sites like these. It would lose money if they went away. Thus, they should let it go.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:06 PM on January 17, 2008


Are you serious? Then check out my new game Monopolist; the highest-priced property in the game is Boardrun, it's in the Navy Blue group.

While I only included one Anti-Monopoly link, interested parties can do their own research and come to their own conclusions.

I love Scrabulous and am slightly addicted, but it's definitely infringing as all hell.

I look forward to reading your amicus brief on Hasbro's behalf.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:09 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


'If I were betting on this, if the case came to litigation or settlement, [I would bet] that Facebook would lose. They are indirectly associated with the name Scrabble to attract viewers to their site, and that would be trademark infringement.'"*

I'm not convinced so easily. As others noted, Facebook took pains to separate itself from the third-party applications created with the API. If Facebook is merely providing an abstracted "space" for others to do what they want, they might argue that they have no responsibility to ferret out potential trademark infringement by third parties - that this should be a matter solely between Mattel/Hasbro and Scrabulous. This could be a relatively new legal issue. Similar to cases like this?
posted by naju at 4:09 PM on January 17, 2008


They'll lose all that money when Wal-Mart stops selling Scrabble and starts selling Scrablarama instead (it's different because the score numbers are on the left side of the letters!), which costs half as much. By allowing this to continue, Hasbro can only lose.
posted by grouse at 4:10 PM on January 17, 2008


How many people would be okay with Scrabulous selling their game on store shelves next to Scrabble as a competitor?

BTW, Scrabble does have an online version at Yahoo! Games, so they do have an good incentive to go after competitors.
posted by smackfu at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]



How many people would be okay with Scrabulous selling their game on store shelves next to Scrabble as a competitor?


If they gave it a different name, they'd be able to do so, I think. They could call it "The Copycat Crossword Game" or something. Again, the rules of a game cannot be copyrighted. They can be patented, but that ship has sailed long ago.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 4:14 PM on January 17, 2008


IMHO Scrabulous as a name is way too close to Scrabble. I think there's a significant chance of confusion.
posted by smackfu at 4:17 PM on January 17, 2008


what smackfu said.
posted by furtive at 4:18 PM on January 17, 2008


Ideally, Scrabulous will license the Scrabble IP from Hasbro and Mattel and all will be fine.

If that doesn't happen, I hope the programmers will say, "our bad, you got us, sorry", strip all of the Scrabble-related data out of it, and redesign Scrabulous as a generic board game engine that happens to be incidentally capable, if users add the right data set to it, of playing Scrabble (as well as chess, checkers, Monopoly, etc etc), and publish the data set design standards. And then, somehow, by coincidence, the data sets will appear for download in places that don't follow the US's IP laws.

A fight over this will also serve as a clear example of why some sort of compulsory licensing regime is needed.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:36 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Crap, there goes the only thing I like about Facebook.

Yeah, me too. I'd wondered how it had been allowed to continue.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:42 PM on January 17, 2008


As an aside, Yahoo's Literati probably is different enough to be lawsuit-proof.

Maybe, but even more importantly, Yahoo has a ton of money. Scrabulous, is, I guess, just a few guys programming.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:07 PM on January 17, 2008


I assumed that Scrabulous *had* a license because this hadn't happened yet. Amazed it took them so long.
posted by gerryblog at 5:10 PM on January 17, 2008


Ideally, Scrabulous will license the Scrabble IP from Hasbro and Mattel and all will be fine.

They would be better off renaming the game and avoiding the trademark suit. They already have a huge install base with Facebook. If they can change the name without requiring those people to do anything, they will be fine.
posted by Gary at 5:16 PM on January 17, 2008


Intellectual property is all fine and good, since its one and whole objective is to encourage increased invention by artificially making the act of invention more profitable by creating a time-limited monopoly on significantly unique inventions.

That's awesome! Inventions are awesome! Artists and inventors are great!

But, uh, how exactly does maintaining a patent to a 70-year old invention encourage some dead guy to continue using that once fabulously intelligent brain of his to invent more things?

Oh, sure, you could argue that he was extra encouraged to invent while he was alive by the idea of supporting his progeny, or for the idealistic goal of supporting some huge corporation or maybe even argue that his invention was more profitable in the moment because of the potential super-long-term profit to the buyer over time. But. Seriously. Does anybody really think of all this stuff when they're inventing something, or do they maybe, just maybe, think: Hey! This is a neat idea. Let's see what happens! Somewhere there's a sweet spot on the "cost-benefit to society" curve for IP time limits and I'm pretty sure it's within the original author(s)' lifetime.

Oh, I suppose we wouldn't have the nigh Jungian archetypes of Mickey Mouse or Superman or that Monopoly dude, Rich Uncle Pennybags, if their mythology wasn't guarded by righteous capitalists. And hey, branding also exists to help ensure quality, but, in this day and age, namebrand merc comes from nearly the exact same Chinese lead laden factory down the street from the knock-off factory. I'd give the middle men more credit if they actually spent one fricking dime to add value.

Meanwhile, a couple pretty smart guys who maybe don't know a lot about IP law make a significantly unique adjustment to an existing invention. Hundreds of thousands of people benefit from this new twist on an old invention, which seems like a net gain for society in the utilitarian sense, which is often the whole point of having laws and society anyways. But, too bad, some dead guy sold his idea to some corporation and dead guys and corporations have more rights than other people do.
posted by Skwirl at 5:28 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


This thread has reinforced my pre-conception that people who use the phrase "intellectual property" without qualification don't know shit about the law.
posted by sdodd at 5:31 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Somewhere there's a sweet spot on the "cost-benefit to society" curve for IP time limits and I'm pretty sure it's within the original author(s)' lifetime.

14 years, according to this. Sounds good to me.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:40 PM on January 17, 2008


I really like Scrabulous and want to keep playing.

However, these threads (file-sharing, etc) always remind me of nothing so much as a 7 year-old inventing reasons why he should be able to have all the cake he wants without eating dinner.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:53 PM on January 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


Somewhere there's a sweet spot on the "cost-benefit to society" curve for IP time limits and I'm pretty sure it's within the original author(s)' lifetime.

I'm sure there's also a "sweet spot" where the government should stop letting you keep the money from your job and distributing it to those in need- if we're going to completely and utterly disregard the rights of the individual.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:56 PM on January 17, 2008


14 years, according to this. Sounds good to me.

Sounds awesome. I'm really bummed that songs from the White Album weren't repackaged with pro-Reagan or neo-nazi lyrics in 1982. Damn copyright fascists!
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:57 PM on January 17, 2008


Son of a gun. The founders somehow guessed that it should be 14 years. Remind me again, why did we change it a couple hundred years later? Oh, right. Because giant corporations purchased a handful of key congressmen. Excellent.
posted by sdodd at 6:11 PM on January 17, 2008


>the squares are not labelled 'double word score',

Er, what?
  1. There isn't room. The squares are 16 pixels across;
  2. right-click, "use numbered board". Now they are labelled.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:20 PM on January 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Already, serious tournament players are threatening to boycott this year's Nationals if Hasbro shuts down either site.

Really? Where are you seeing this? CGP? Personally, I'm boycotting Nationals because they're in Orlando in July. But then, I'm not a player, just a Scrabble spouse. He's crazy enough to go.

I think that you may be overestimating the transition of players from ISC and Scrabulous to club and tournament Scrabble, or even just buying a Scrabble board. There was a big influx after Word Freak, and the School Scrabble program also brings in some players. I think the existence of tournament and club Scrabble has just become better known, and serious Scrabble players seek out the better game that club play will give them. Beating your friends and family becomes old, and they stop playing you.

Also, Hasbro may help fund the National Scrabble Association and Nationals, but they're not going crazy about it. The yearly Nationals lasted for what, 2 years? They're back to every other year now. Last year's Nationals were run and funded by players.
posted by booksherpa at 6:29 PM on January 17, 2008


Frankly, who cares who runs the game? If Scrabulous disappeared but was replaced the next day by "Official Scrabble (tm)" why wouldn't you play? I fail to see the downside to Mattel/Hasbro by the action -- if they lose then the point made by ten pounds of inedita above still stands (they get a load of new interest in the game), but if they win, they get to run the game and still get to keep the new interest. So where's the downside?
posted by patricio at 6:31 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


So much for that MySpace Twister™ plugin I was working on.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:19 PM on January 17, 2008


drjimmy11 writes "I'm sure there's also a 'sweet spot' where the government should stop letting you keep the money from your job and distributing it to those in need- if we're going to completely and utterly disregard the rights of the individual."

Wait ... what individual is losing money here? The original inventor is dead, as Skwirl pointed out, and his invention is 70 years old. Only Hasbro stands to gain (which had nothing to do with Scrabble coming about), not the inventor. I believe that was the point.

Anyway, if the name of the game is changed, I don't think there's much of a chance they're doing anything infringing.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:42 PM on January 17, 2008


Former ISC.ro and current Scrabulous (non-Facebook) player, here. And yeah, every time I log in to their site, the lawyer me in says, "Waaait a second..." But the thought passes as soon as I play my first <lingo&gt bingo </lingo&gt. You all should challenge me sometime: joelisboa. Four player MeFi game anyone? You know, before they lose the case?
posted by joe lisboa at 7:52 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's the last time I try that trick.
posted by joe lisboa at 7:53 PM on January 17, 2008


Scrab·ble /ˈskræbəl/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[skrab-uhl] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
Trademark. a brand name for a game combining anagrams and crosswords in which two to four players use counters of various point values to form words on a playing board.



So what are they copyrighting ?

The different ways of combining anagrams !!!
posted by chrisranjana.com at 7:57 PM on January 17, 2008


Frankly, who cares who runs the game? If Scrabulous disappeared but was replaced the next day by "Official Scrabble (tm)" why wouldn't you play?

The problem, I suppose, is that it might not be as good of an implementation. If the new version is made by a team that really loves Scrabble and cares about gameplay, then that's great.

But a lot of the official board game implementations are crap. They care too much about capturing the look and feel (finally, custom avatars and 3d scrabble boards!) and not enough about making it fun to play.
posted by Gary at 8:04 PM on January 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm sure there's also a "sweet spot" where the government should stop letting you keep the money from your job and distributing it to those in need- if we're going to completely and utterly disregard the rights of the individual. Ayn Rand.

What serious political philosophy says taxation represents complete and utter disregard for the rights of the individual?
posted by wtdoor at 8:22 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also -- Scrabulous.com.
posted by ericb at 2:31 PM on January 17 [+] [!]


Thanks! I almost signed up for a Facebook.com account when I hear about this game in the last MeFi Facebook post. Now I don't have to.

Personally I'd love it if copycat versions of the game could be released. My mom once had this awesome scrabble set carved out of wood and I wanted to get a nice set for myself, but the best one can buy these days is the cheap plastic "deluxe edition" Mattel hawks. Imagine the sets that enthusiasts could make if the game was like chess or backgammon.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:23 PM on January 17, 2008


So what are they copyrighting ?

Nothing, since like in every one of these threads half the people who make long, impassioned rants about how they hate the "copyright" of something couldn't be bothered to spend five minutes on Google learning what the difference between a copyright and a trademark is, and why that difference is both necessary and relevant. I imagine drjimmy11 already pinpointed the reason why not.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:23 PM on January 17, 2008


Frankly, who cares who runs the game? If Scrabulous disappeared but was replaced the next day by "Official Scrabble (tm)" why wouldn't you play?

I suspect you seriously underestimate the fickleness of social networking app users.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:28 PM on January 17, 2008


Thoughtcrime: I wanted to get a nice set for myself, but the best one can buy these days is the cheap plastic "deluxe edition" Mattel hawks.

Oh, there's tons of handmade boards out there. Google for "custom scrabble board" and variations of that. I'll poke my husband tomorrow and try to get him to give his 2 cents. He's got a really nice custom board - the turntable slides off and the board folds. It all fits into a space not much bigger than a laptop. On the other hand, his cost around $150, so they're not cheap.
posted by booksherpa at 8:47 PM on January 17, 2008


So there's nothing better to do on Facebook than play a generic version of Scrabble?

About what I figured.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:59 PM on January 17, 2008


Somewhere there's a sweet spot on the "cost-benefit to society" curve for IP time limits and I'm pretty sure it's within the original author(s)' lifetime.

14 years, according to this...
[the poster's hyperlink refers to copyright].

So what are they copyrighting ? The different ways of combining anagrams !!!
The claim by Hasbro/Mattel is not based on an infringement of copyright, but one of trademark law.
posted by ericb at 9:18 PM on January 17, 2008


Or what XQUZYPHYR said a few comments above:
"So what are they copyrighting?

Nothing, since like in every one of these threads half the people who make long, impassioned rants about how they hate the 'copyright' of something couldn't be bothered to spend five minutes on Google learning what the difference between a copyright and a trademark is, and why that difference is both necessary and relevant
."
posted by ericb at 10:01 PM on January 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


The claim by Hasbro/Mattel is not based on an infringement of copyright, but one of trademark law.

If there is confusion, it might come from news sources like the following:

Forbes: Scrabulous Facing Copyright Infringement Charges

The popular networking site Facebook could soon suffer a setback to its offerings of fun and diversions, after the creators of the popular online word game Scrabulous were served a copyright notice from the owners of Scrabble.

Just saying.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:56 PM on January 17, 2008


Crap, there goes the only thing I like about Facebook.

Ditto.

Then again, I'm totally getting pwned by someone who I thought'd be an easy marks, so hopefully the C & D will come down before my self-esteem is completely shattered.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:04 PM on January 17, 2008


Heh. I have that same problem, Alvy. I expect all my writer and editor friends to kick my ass. But my ESL computer geek friends? Not so much.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:11 PM on January 17, 2008


Really? Where are you seeing this? CGP?

There was a ton of talk in Channel 20 on ISC today.

I'll poke my husband tomorrow and try to get him to give his 2 cents. He's got a really nice custom board - the turntable slides off and the board folds.

Yeah, two gentlemen (that I know of) make boards like those; I recently bought one of the folding boards from Ossie Mair (with matching tile racks), whose boards are nicer than the similar boards made by George Bissonnette. I would also avoid buying anything from Sam Kantimathi, as his delivery gives a new meaning to 'unreliable'.

But I still have my Hasbro stuff: two Deluxe sets, a classic travel set, a Deluxe Super Scrabble set, ad nauseum. The new players aren't going to be buying $150 boards right away; they'll be buying $20 sets.

So, thoughtcrime, you could get one of Ossie's boards. But if you only plan on playing at home, you might want to look at the new wooden deluxe set. Main downside is that you can't easily see your opponent's rack during play, but it's the next best thing to a Franklin Mint set.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:41 PM on January 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Forbes misunderstanding copyright law? Weren't these the people who said SCO was going to mop the floor with IBM and Novell so many years ago?

I've seen several reports that Hasbro sent a DMCA notification, but if they had, I believe Facebook would have disabled the application expeditiously. My guess is that it was a trademark cease and desist letter.
posted by grouse at 2:29 AM on January 18, 2008


I have some professional interest in this stuff, and here's how it looks to me:

1) Game rules are not protected by US copyright law. At best they might be patented, and even then it's on shaky ground. Hasbro's subsidiary Wizards of the Coast patented the tapping action in Magic: The Gathering in a move widely considered to be total bullshit.

2) Only the specific expression of a game is copyrightable, and only when a particular expression is not reasonably necessary to convey the rules of the game. That means no complaining about "double word score."

3) A game's name is not subject to copyright -- but trademark is a different matter.

(Incidentally, working in RPGs the trademark/copyright divide is a pain in the ass because a trademark can make it impossible to use non-copyright works. Many Conan stories are out of copyright in Canada, but Conan is trademarked.)

4) Hasbro and other game companies routinely claim rights they do not in fact possess over game rules. Hasbro is particularly bad for this because it's so big its legal department can confidently frighten small businesses, whether their arguments have merit or not.

5) Hasbro's action seems to be over trademark dilution. They have no power to keep people from developing an application capable of playing Scrabble. They must be proactive about defending their trademark. This includes the name. It includes "look and feel" complaints.

6) I have heard a very dangerous legal argument to destroy the freedom games have enjoyed and know that it's probably made the rounds at Hasbro. This argument is based on an analogy from software, where game systems represent "human-selected values" that should be subject to copyright. If this gets pulled out, it could have some bad consequences. That's a good reason to keep an eye on this situation.

7) Hasbro is indeed aggressively exploring ways to play games online because of changing trends in entertainment. Dungeons and Dragons is slated for re-release with a subscription-based online play venue to deal with the fact that players can't find each other face to face as reliably as before. I would not be surprised if this trend has been replicated in boardgames.
posted by mobunited at 2:50 AM on January 18, 2008 [4 favorites]


See also the editorial in today's FT.

jacquilynne - I think the fickleness works both ways though. If the official game is a decent implementation people will use that instead. I guess there's some residual loyalty to Scrabulous but as they're making $25,000 a month they're not exactly the classic "little man" (although clearly tiny compared to Hasbro)
posted by patricio at 3:15 AM on January 18, 2008


They care too much about capturing the look and feel (finally, custom avatars and 3d scrabble boards!) and not enough about making it fun to play.

A-fucking-men.
posted by JHarris at 4:10 AM on January 18, 2008


How many people would be okay with Scrabulous selling their game on store shelves next to Scrabble as a competitor?

I'm fine with it. Why on earth would I care if Hasbro suffers?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:04 AM on January 18, 2008


if your argument is based on not liking Hasbro, that's tough to counter.
posted by smackfu at 6:19 AM on January 18, 2008


> 4) Hasbro and other game companies routinely claim rights they do not in fact possess over game rules.

This is the key issue. It is a serious, widespread problem. In April, the CCIA filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against the NFL and MLB for their bogus "all use is prohibited" announcements during games and against TV and movie studios for the bogus FBI warnings they've been putting on DVDs and VHS tapes for years.

Systematically lying to customers about their rights under the law is a deceptive trade practice. It violates federal law. And it slowly impoverishes our culture. What Hasbro is doing is despicable.
posted by sdodd at 6:39 AM on January 18, 2008


From my cold, dead hands, etc.

It's the only reason I spend more than 30 seconds a day on Facebook.
posted by jokeefe at 8:09 AM on January 18, 2008


The editorial in patricio's FT link puts it well:
"Enthusiasts have already set up 'Save Scrabulous' groups. Some of them argue that Scrabble benefits from the interest that the online game has attracted with new sales of the board game, and warn that they will boycott Hasbro and Mattel products if Scrabulous disappears.

These arguments miss the central point. Against whatever extra sales the online game may generate, must be set the damage it has already done to any licensed version that comes along. The presence of the unofficial game means that an authorised game will lack novelty. The ability to charge for it, once players have become used to joining in for free, is also reduced, and the brand itself has been diluted. Serious glitches experienced on Scrabulous could make players less willing to try an official online Scrabble game.

There is also the fact that Electronic Arts has a licensing agreement for electronic versions of Hasbro games until 2013. Any settlement between the Scrabulous entrepreneurs and Hasbro and Mattel, must surely take account of the cost to EA as well.

The quarrel over Scrabulous is a classic example of the challenges in maintaining intellectual property rights in a world where so much content is freely available on the internet. It requires nimble footwork to defend the product without sounding like a killjoy....Even where unofficial usage represents a sincere tribute, owners of powerful brands must protect their intellectual property rights. When it comes to such valuable commodities, the highest-scoring seven-letter word is still control."
posted by ericb at 9:43 AM on January 18, 2008


A suggested solution:
1. EA hire the Agarwalla brothers (as consultants or employees) to work off of their current code base and/or start from scratch, joining an EA team which may already be coding the official online Scrabble game. The brothers are compensated for their work.

2. Mattel/Hasbro/EA launch the official branded version of Scrabble online. They license it to sites that want to host the game, working out fair and equitable splits of revenue from embedded advertising, sponsorships, or whatever metrics are deemed of value.

3. Mattel/Hasbro/EA host and sponsor online competitions/contests in which players from all official licensed online venues are invited to compete with possible ties to "real world" competitions.
posted by ericb at 10:00 AM on January 18, 2008


I've seen nothing that actually describes the substance of the case. Is it trademark or copyright? If copyright, are they copyrighting the board itself? The board can be represented by a simple algorithm so it's not like they're just blasting a scan of a real scrabble board up there.

There's also the entirely separate issue of what Facebook's liability is, but that presumes there is a violation to begin with.

This is not nearly as simple as someone sharing some Metallica songs on Napster or whatever.

fourcheesemac: What's more telling here is the obvious foolishness of the Facebook team, and consequently, the evidence that they are not mature managers, or being advised by more mature managers. This was very obviously going to risk trouble (as faster said above, there are a lot of other potential examples on Facebook).

I don't see what they've done that's foolish. Are you arguing that creation of the Platform (on which the Argwalla brothers built Scrabulous) is foolish because someone, somewhere, might violate IP with it? Thank god Tim Berners-Lee didn't have such "mature managers" when coming up with the WWW.

I expect that the lawyers are doing what lawyers are paid to do. If the court order it gets taken down then I expect it will be taken down. Pretty straightforward.
posted by hupp at 11:01 AM on January 18, 2008


jacquilynne: Your ESL computer geek friends probably found http://www.wineverygame.com/

Never go up against a computer geek on our home turf.
posted by rusty at 11:07 AM on January 18, 2008


That's the funny thing -- I don't think the one I have in mind in particular is using a wordbuilder (and there are tons of them out there, though that one looks particularly nice). She's not playing obscure words . She's just playing normal words very, very well.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2008


What serious political philosophy says taxation represents complete and utter disregard for the rights of the individual?

Republican populism.

Wait. Sorry, I mixed up "serious" with "widespread."
posted by namespan at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2008


I've seen nothing that actually describes the substance of the case. Is it trademark or copyright?

From the 'electronic rights' link in the FPP:
"Scrabulous infringes on Hasbro's trademark. Like all intellectual property owners, we take this type of infringement seriously," Hasbro spokesman Gary Serba said in a statement. "We are reviewing a number of options with the parties involved and hope to find an amicable solution. If we cannot come to one quickly, we will be forced to close down the site and its associated distribution points."
posted by ericb at 11:37 AM on January 18, 2008


Well, I think this is a little different from Tim Berners-Lee and the invention of the web as a visual interface for hyperlinked information. Among other things, no one had already trademarked the name "web" for such a network, already in existence or not.

I am down with the case that restrictive IP laws can inhibit creativity to everyone's detriment. But so can the flouting of laws that ensure that people who do create things or market the creative work of others under license can make a living doing so.

My main concern is that we often tend to think of the digital domain as qualitatively different from the older "hard copy" domain, as if different rules should apply. The internet has a culture of piracy deeply tied, by many people at least, to its most valorized forms of "creativity." But at this point, now that the internet is the main venue for cultural creativity in so many areas of culture, that needs to change or we will see a collapse of the creative professions. That's what is happening in music, in my opinion. The actual creators are not being protected.

The guys who wrote Scabulous would surely want such protection had they written a truly innovative piece of code for a major application and licensed it to Microsoft. And the guys who wrote (or stole the code for) Facebook are walking a very fine line when they (or Zuckerberg, at least) claim that "code" is generic and can't be stolen.

I wonder how long I'd last posting a nearly identical social networking platform called FaceBookMark.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:31 AM on January 20, 2008


"posting is the wrong verb above, but I can't think of the right one.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:33 AM on January 20, 2008


And here it is: Facehairbook.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:34 AM on January 20, 2008


Oh, and Facebook has also trademarked the "poke."

These guys aren't heros.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:36 AM on January 20, 2008


Choice words for 'Scrabulous' debate -- "Wildly popular Facebook application is in hot water for similarity to classic board game. But could it be a marketing treasure trove for Scrabble's trademark holders?"
posted by ericb at 3:29 PM on January 20, 2008


> the web as a visual interface

Oh dear me. Now you've pissed off the accessibility geeks as well. Sightist!
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:21 PM on January 21, 2008


GameDaily BIZ:
"Has there been any talk about working with Hasbro to fix the infamous Scrabulous debacle?"
Chip Lange (Vice President and General Manager of EA's Hasbro Studio):
"We're working on it aggressively. What I can tell you is that we're going to have products in the social networking space based on the Scrabble IP. And they're going to be available real soon. These are going to the first of many. [Being a gamer in the social networking space], I'm certainly having a lot of fun out there and a lot of these brands work real hard in that space and these will be the first ones that we'll be rolling out. So we're their partner on this stuff so stay tuned for the big announcement. We want to make the right game for that platform and that's what we're working on doing." *
posted by ericb at 2:05 PM on February 12, 2008


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