Scrabulous: I-N-F-R-I-N-G-I-N-G ?


Scrabulous , an internet-based game reminiscent of the board game Scrabble , has 2.3 million active users on Facebook, and an estimated 500,000 people use the application every day. (Disclaimer: I'm one of them.) Brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla founded Scrabulous as a stand-alone website in 2006, and its popularity vastly increased when they ported it to Facebook in August of last year. All that interest has caught the eye of Scrabble-creator Hasbro, who reportedly sent Facebook a takedown notice about the game two weeks ago.

Scrabulous is undeniably reminiscent of Scrabble – even the name is a close derivative. But processes or ideas can't be copyrighted or trademarked, and the rules of a game are the process by which you play it. It's very hard to tell where the game-process ends and the proprietary elements begin, however, since Hasbro can keep people from marketing games that use confusingly similar trademarks (like product names), trade dress (like the packaging or total appearance of the board), or copyrightable material. Scrabulous uses the same board as Scrabble, but it's arguably necessary to use that board to utilize the 'process' of the game. Since litigation is so expensive, cases as risky as this one almost always settle before trial, and I expect that if Hasbro sues, Facebook will back down. Scrabulous's website and Facebook application are still live as of the time I'm posting this; Facebook and Hasbro are keeping mum about any plans to take the game down or make it legit. Since Hasbro sold the rights to market electronic versions of Scrabble to Electronic Arts , it's more likely to sue Scrabulous out of existence than to make a deal for royalties.

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