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RIP Scrabulous: Trademark Law Rears Its Ugly Head.

Posted by: David Kiley on July 29, 2008


I had a pause in my work-day, about ten minutes. So, I thought I would go make a move on one of my six running Scrabulous games on
Horrors! Sniff. I was greeted with: “Scrabulous is disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice. If you would like to stay informed about developments in this matter, please click here.”

Hasbro, which owns Scrabble, started its own Scrabble application on Facebook, and sued Scrabulous’s India-based creators, Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla. Scrabulous had become Facebook’s number-one game.

I suppose it was only a matter of time. It was an obvious rip off of Scrabble. The Agarwallas were bound to find themselves in a legal corner they couldn’t wriggle away from. Meantime, they made buckets of money.

These games are a funny thing. I had regular games with friends, a few of whom I have not had a phone conversation with in months, and in one case…years. We traded lines of communication in the message box within each Scrabulous game.

I’ll check out Hasbro’s application. There is a bright side. My won-loss record was so awful that I’m happy to have a clean slate to take on my nemesis in the new game. Are you listening Sharon?

Reader Comments


July 30, 2008 12:53 PM

"Scrabble" by Hasbro doesn't even load, courtesy of some hackers somewhere. Once you do give a go, tell us how awful it really is... I might consider joining the facebook anti-scrabble group.


July 30, 2008 12:56 PM

yes i to am surprised to find scrabulous gone,and i`ve tried the srabble one NOT as good as scrabulous


July 30, 2008 1:11 PM

BAsed on your headline, you seem to think there is something wrong with the law (I think you meant copyright, not trademark). Well,if it were you having his property misappropriated without having been asked, I am sure you would be singing a different tune. Shame on you.

From Kiley: I am not saying the law is bad. To the contrary.

mike v.

July 30, 2008 1:11 PM

I am suffering from scrabulous withdrawal as well on Facebook. Can't we all just get along???


July 30, 2008 1:21 PM

My only concern is, millions of people have played Checkers and Chess over the internet without any problems. Even Backgammon.

These are all board games. What makes the use of Scrabble so different than the others? Why has not Hasbro gone after Microsoft for having all these boardgames on their MSN gaming site?

Because Microsoft would eat Hasbro and lay everybody off! Facebook is an upstart trying to make the internet a better place to hangout.

mr. natural

July 30, 2008 1:58 PM

BusinessWeek is renewed with fresh material every day. Scrabble, on the other hand, is basically unchanged since its invention. More power to the Indians. It shouldn't take them more than a few days to provide a portal through which Americans may renew their play.

Our intellectual property laws are stultifying technological growth in this country.

Tony in Chicago USA

July 30, 2008 2:04 PM

I was just getting into Scrabulous too. The only reason this garbage is happening is because another big American corporation (Hasbro) is money hungry for the rights to do what the Agarwallas did for millions of users around the world...except they want to charge us!!!! I applaud Indians and people around the world who believe in intellectual freedom have the ability to make free software for use for us all!!!!!


July 30, 2008 2:19 PM

You can go on and start an email game with your friends....not quite as good as Facebook, but satisfies the Scrabble fix.....My 87 year old mother had 15 games going when they shut it down....she is missing it......I tried the Hasbro application on Facebook and got nowhere.....too bad they couldn't have reached some agreement as it was a great way to play the game.


July 30, 2008 2:22 PM


Checkers and Chess are not copyrighted. If you invented a derivative game from these, say Chess with an extra bishop and a 16 x 16 board, then you would have every right to copyright your new creation and try to make money from it. If I were to copy your creation and try to make money from it then I would be stealing from you.

This is the short and simple of copyright law. If you don't like the laws, then you can attempt to change them or you can go ask Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he will put you up in his Iranian home and let you play scrabble on the Iranian Suicide Bomber Rememberance Facebook knockoff site, LOL.


July 30, 2008 2:33 PM

Mike... checkers, chess, and backgammon are all quite old - hundreds and thousands of years old. Scrabble was created within the last century and Hasbro is well within it's rights to protect it's intellectual property. The Agarwallas did nothing more than steal someone elses idea - indeed, even their brand. It would have been a simple thing to tweek some of the rule, create a new board, and pick a name that was not a neon "We're copying you!" sign. Before spouting insane theories, you may want to learn a little about what you are talking about.


July 30, 2008 2:34 PM

Ummm... maybe because chess and checkers and backgammon have been around for thousands of years, and are in the public domain?


July 30, 2008 4:26 PM

I thought that the copyright laws only allowed for a monopoly (another Hasbro game, btw lol) for 30 years. I know they changed the law recently to accommodate Disney (Mickey Mouse). Goes to show that only Big Money can change the laws to their favor. It must be that Hasbro got help from that change, because Scrabble is definitely older than 30 years! So it is only a recent revision to the law that caught up the makers of Scrabulous. It does make me wonder when the next copy right extension will be drafted into law to help appease these corporate monsters.


July 30, 2008 4:38 PM

Mike obviously your suffering from withdrawals goto select games and pick Scrabble. You can get your fix where they paid for a licensing fee or pay royalties which the Agarwallas or Facebook don’t want to do. Your whining at the wrong the wrong people.


July 30, 2008 5:27 PM

John B,

Maybe you should do a little research into copyright law. Boardgames can not be copyrighted and even if they were due to age, having been invented in 1938, the copyright on Scrabble would have long since lapsed into public domain.

Hasbro, which owns the US trademark on the name "Scrabble", right now is holding an edge in the battle only because of its monetary strength in hiring legal muscle. It is yet to be seen if they'll be able to score a win when it comes to their claims.


July 30, 2008 5:56 PM

So is 70 years (first incarnation of what became scrabble created in 1938, board slightly changed in the late 40's) not long enough for the Copyright? Or does it have to exist for "thousands of years" before it makes it into the public domain here in the US?

I mean sure, it didn't "make it big" until the 1950's, but market forces shouldn't have anything to do with the Copyright of the game.

And when does something become so ingrained in the culture that it by default becomes public domain? I mean there was a TV Game show for 6 years based on Scrabble, doesn't that count for something?

And to Kevin: Hasbro didn't crate anything, they just bought the rights from a bankrupt company, who themselves bought the rights from a company, who themselves bought the rights from a guy, who had bought the rights from the original creator (Alfred Mosher Butts). The "Established" game makers, rejected the game outright originally (Late 30's - mid 40's).


July 30, 2008 6:10 PM

Yea! My compliments to the Indians and Chinese etc. etc. for ripping off the world economy of trillions of dollars.

Just because you're not willing to pay for something, we should applaud those who will steal it for you.

Do you think for a second, in 50 years, when those steal and re-engineer cultures dominate the ones in control now that they won't be enforcing intellectual property laws?

I'm very much against the buy patents and sue world that exists now, but this is clearly a company that wants to make money off their own creation. Is there something wrong with that?

OK, forget it, you posters are right, &#@! Hasbro, let all their workers get laid off - that'll fix it. Oh, and I suppose it's Hasbro's fault too that some JA hacked their app and now you can't enjoy it.


July 30, 2008 8:44 PM

Looks like the brothers have created a new game called wordscraper (search on facebook) but only slightly similar to the scrabble.


July 30, 2008 9:08 PM

True about the intellectual property rights, but don't you think it would have been far wiser of Hasbro to buy the functioning/ efficient Scrabulous from the Agarwallas, instead of shutting it down and infuriating hundreds of thousands of fans in the process? Or at least come up with something comparable to offer said fans, before shutting it down? The new Scrabble application has myriad problems, it won't even load most of the time, and one can't play internationally. Sure, the Agarwallas totally stole the Scrabble idea, but let's face it, they were filling a void that was not being filled by Hasbro, which never managed to create a decent online version of Scrabble.

The most short-sighted part of all this is that Scrabulous revived interest in a board game that most people hadn't played in years. This is a public relations disaster for Hasbro.


July 31, 2008 8:28 PM

Yes, I am missing my "scrabulous" fix too. Good source of entertainment, hopefully they will figure out soon, we WILL find a way!

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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