Posted by: Catherine Holahan on July 29, 2008
The game is officially over for Scrabulous fanatics. The popular Scrabble knockoff, which grabbed millions of fans after launching on social network Facebook late last year, was disabled July 29 for US and Canadian Facebook members “until further notice.”
The removal of the program was in response to a July 24 takedown request by Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to the Scrabble game. Hasbro asked that Facebook shut down the program shortly after filing suit against Scrabulous creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla for violating Hasbro’s intellectual property. “We own the rights to that game,” said Mark Blecher, Hasbro’s General Manager of Digital Media.
A Facebook spokeswoman said that the company forwarded Hasbro’s request to Scrabulous’ founders and asked that they take “appropriate” action. Jayant Agarwalla released a statement July 29.
Facebook has informed us that they have received a legal notice from Hasbro in reference to the Scrabulous application. In deference to Facebook’s concerns and without prejudice to our legal rights, we have had to restrict our fans in USA and Canada from accessing the Scrabulous application on Facebook until further notice. This is an unfortunate event and not something that we are very pleased about, especially as Mattel has been pursuing the matter in Indian courts for the past few months. We will sincerely hope to bring to our fans brighter news in the days to come.
The same week that Hasbro filed suit, Electronic Arts began publicly testing a licensed version of the game on Facebook. Titled “Scrabble,” EA’s game was offline early July 29 due to maintenance, according to a notice for Facebook users.
Hasbro’s lawsuit sparked an intense debate over how companies should respond to online versions of their products created by enthusiasts. Some argue that Hasbro should have worked with Scrabulous’ creators to turn its online fans into board game buyers, or to share in Scrabulous’ advertising revenue. “My view is that this is incredibly short sighted on Hasbro’s part,” says Shel Israel, a Scrabulous player and author of “Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers.”
Others argue that Hasbro’s had to demand that Facebook remove the program. Hasbro, after all, had struck a deal in August 2007 giving EA the right to create digital versions of all its games for social networks and mobile phones. Had Hasbro allowed Scrabulous to continue to operate, it could have diluted the value of its licenses.
“Like it or not, scrabulous is a blatant rip-off of Scrabble,” wrote one BusinessWeek reader under the handle “Lloyd.” “Rajat and Jayant did an admirable thing in trying to bring a beloved classic into the modern age. But the moment they accepted payment for a game based on Scrabble without Hasbro’s permission… they crossed over into piratesville.”