Hasbro Sues Scrabulous For Being Too Scrabble-ish

from the triple-word-score dept

It was only a matter of time before super-popular office productivity killer, Scrabulous, was sued by Hasbro for infringing upon the Scrabble trademark. A shutdown notice was sent two weeks ago, although, as of right now, Scrabulous is still operational (hurry up and finish up your games). Founded in 2006 as a standalone website by two Indian brothers, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, Scrabulous’ growth accelerated significantly when it launched as an application for Facebook. As the 9th most popular application on Facebook, Scrabulous boasts over 2.3 million active users with over 500,000 of them active daily. While Hasbro does indeed have a strong legal case against the Agarwalla brothers, they are missing out on a key opportunity by pursuing this litigious route. Although Hasbro recently licensed the digital rights of its games to EA, no online version of Scrabble exists right now. So, by shutting down Scrabulous, Hasbro would be angering 2.3 million of Scrabble’s biggest fans. Instead, why not hammer out a compromise and turn this into a win-win-win situation? Unfortunately, most likely, history will repeat itself, as this is not the first time Hasbro has chosen this route — in 2005, they shut down popular online Scrabble site, e-scrabble.

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Comments on “Hasbro Sues Scrabulous For Being Too Scrabble-ish”

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80 Comments
Emily says:

Re: Online Scrabble Games

Wordbiz is the best scrabble application on the web, and is nearly identical in “looks” to the actual Scrabble game. Sounds like Hasbro is only after the biggest one – not a surprise. But as a diehard Scrabble player and Wordbiz veteran, I’d be extremely ILL if Hasbro tried the same thing with them, and would certainly avoid buying the actual games.

Carl Williams says:

Re: Lawyers

Couldn’t agree more. Over-ambitious legal departments are a soul-sucking drain on everyone, companies which allow these idiots to alienate their customers deserve to suffer, and often do. Business depends on goodwill. “Sue first” attitudes make customers hate you. Simple.

Scrabulous is a very good online version of scrabble. If it needs to be licensed in some way, both Hasbro and the Scrabulous people can benefit from making it “official”. Scrabulous has a huge user base, and has contributed significantly to an upturn in sales of Scrabble sets. Hasbro should be grateful, and should be very careful to avoid styling themselves aggressive and unpleasant over this, in my view. ‘Cos lost customers have long memories.

Hasbro didn’t invent Scrabble – that was an architect named Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938, it was first called Scrabble by one James Brunot in 1948, and it was picked up by Macy’s in ’52, the rights passing to Selchow and Richter in that year.

A Scrabulous playing Hasbro customer says:

I have played a number of ‘official’ versions of Scrabble on my computer, pda and phone over the years, both online and offline. Most have been poorly implemented and lacked any significant user base. Scrabulous is by far and away the best implementation and its Facebook version has made it phenomenally popular with players of all different levels.
Hasbro almost certainly has a good case for copyright infringement, but for the sake of good customer relations with all the millions of Scrabulous users who probably are currently Hasbro customers for the physical Scrabble game and other games, it would make so much sense for them to make the Scrabulous developers an offer they can’t refuse and keep them on as well paid employees – of EA if necessary. This will be best for Hasbro’s bottom line since they will retain the advertising revenue from the huge user base and the enormous customer base for future offerings these great developers they could come up with based on Hasbro’s game catalog.
Shutting down Scrabulous will create a big backlash against Hasbro – I for one will probably boycott buying from them in future. I will certainly not be interested in paying for the right to use an ‘official’ online version or purchasing any new off the shelf software.
Hasbro needs to do some careful thinking and market analysis.

Anonymous Coward says:

…And what is the possibility of Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, taking their Scrabulous program and releasing it in a way which Tetris was released – ALL OVER THE PLACE! Basically because of Tetris’ footprint in most every home/office, far too many people became addicted to it, making it almost impossible to control – it wasn’t just located at “one source”.

What is to loose if you know you are going to loose everything

Wolfger (profile) says:

Re: ...

This isn’t about copyright, it’s about trademark. I understand you might be confused since so many corporations try to cloud the issue by calling all of it “Intellectual Property”, but copyright, trademark, and patent are 3 completely different and unrelated things. Scrabble has, in my opinion, excellent grounds for a trademark lawsuit.

…also, thanks to Disney, copyright is protected for far, far longer than 20 years now. Basically, anything copyrighted now will still be protected by copyright when you die. It’s not right, and not good, but that’s the way congress is bought and paid to write the law.

FUD Buster says:

This is a clear cut case. We can argue if copyrights last too long. But under the law, if these guys didn’t have a plan for being sued as part of thier product plan, they are stupid.

And If Hasbro lets is slide, they can lose the ability to protect themselves.

The law suite may end up as a win-win setlement. But is also possible the Scrabulous guys were not smart enough to be polite when first contacted. We don’t know much, but we do know there is clear violation of copyright. Of course maybe the makers of Scrabulous are as ignorant of the law as many who post here.

Patents are 20 years. Copyrights are much more complex and extend years after the death of the creator in the case of a person owning a copyright.

Synn_sation says:

Re: Re:

I am addicted to Scrabulous…my mother to Literati..who cares where we play as long as we play. This free online version keep me busy. Take it away and your disappointing not to mention losing valuable customers. If you were amart you would take the application and make it bigger and better then ever. The only thing you stad to gain is customers, take it away and not only are you losing customers your losing your respect as well.

dualboot says:

link?

does anyone have a link to the lawsuit? I went to all of the links in the article, and the one that I suspect would have what I’m looking for has been removed. The wording will really impact how I feel about Hasbro. If they are suing for cash damages, I’ll truly be upset (not upset enough to get rid of my 25th-year collector’s edition, though… that would hurt me, not them.) However, if their strategy is to absorb the application, (especially if they keep the brothers on-staff as developers for other online games) then I would say it is good business sense. They cannot simply allow unlicensed versions of their games run wild on the web if they expect to keep their market share… but becoming the “official sponsor” or the “parent company” would keep them legally protected, while allowing these great online versions to thrive.

Anyways, I haven’t found the lawsuit itself, so if anyone has the link, it would be much appreciated.

P.S. I tried Hasbro’s online version. I was truly disappointed that they made it a “see how many words you can make” with these 7 letters game rather than laying it out like the real game board. It isn’t remotely the same game.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why should Hasbro hire these two? As far as I can tell all they have done is copy a popular board game. They may have created a decent way to play Scrabble online but if they’re so brilliant they would have come up with an original idea.

The original idea was doing it in a way that people actually used it. I’m amazed that people don’t recognize the value of actually building a community around an application.

listen_to_techdirt (user link) says:

Its very disappointing.

Can someone explain in layman’s terms as to what the violation was?

Can one legally create an online version of a game like scrabble if she/he decides to name it totally different from the original name of the game?

Does this mean that its illegal to create online versions of games like chess or crosswords or trivia games? Where does one draw the line?

Venkat says:

Can someone explain in layman’s terms as to what the violation was? Can one legally create an online version of a game like scrabble if she/he decides to name it totally different from the original name of the game?

Hasbro’s colorable claim has several components. First the name itself is trademarked by Hasbro, and Scrabulous is close enough that consumers will be possibily confused as to whether Hasbro is behind the game.

Second, Hasbro probably has trade dress/trademark protection in the distinctive appearance of the game, which could also lead to consumer confusion.

Hasbro probably has a colorable cybersquatting claim – which prohibits use of a domain name with a bad faith intent to profit from an existing trademark.

Finally, Hasbro probably has some copyright protection in there as well – maybe to the layout of the board and the pieces.

The only possible tweak is that these guys are located off-shore and if they are completely off-shore they could make it more difficult for Hasbro to reach them. Since they are dealing with people in the US this is a bit tougher, ultimately Hasbro could find out who is behind the site even if they took efforts to conceal. The fact that they are off-shore would also potentially affect the TM/copyright analysis, US laws, particularly copyright law only applies to infringements that take place in the US.

nonuser says:

Re: Re:

Changing the name shouldn’t be too tough – they could post a notice for a few weeks, then redirect the url after that.

If they changed their name to “Rubble”, changed the layout, gave everybody eight tiles instead of seven, and changed some of the tile values to match current statistical frequencies, would Hasbro still have a good case?

Gran says:

Re: Re: Re:

EXCELLENT questions…..if the brothers “paraphrased” the game, then it wouldn’t be SCRABBLE any longer, would it?

Did you ever play Wordox? That was somewhat similar to Scrabulous, but the timing and scoring was slightly different. That died when HOYLE (I believe) took it off won.net and replaced it with gambling games. I hope the brothers don’t take the game off the site.

Mr. Lucas Brice says:

Hasbro's Interests

I don’t understand what all the complaining is about. Hasbro certainly has the right to protect their copyrights, patents, and/or trademarks. Indeed, they have an obligation to do this, because legally, if they don’t excercize due diligence in protecting their trademarks and patents, they can lose them. They don’t have any obligation to make deals with infringers, nor is it necessarily in their best interest to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Scrabble

OK MAke the Q worth 25 ponits make the Z 25 ponits and the J 15 ponits K 10 points X 20 points Bingo on 8 letter words worth and extra 100 points change the triple letter to a double and change the double to triple make the board a new shape like a butterfly for a rectangle.Then add new tiles like QU as 1 tile worth 5 points then add squares where you lose points like top right corner lose 25 points.Start with 4 squares must be at least a 4 letter word.And add squares where the other player loses a turn if you use that square.add new colors like red quad points and purple triple letters orange double letter.make it a whole new game with changes.

PRMan (user link) says:

Niggle

I used to have a free application for my Palm called Niggle. It had a really tough computer opponent. They paid the author in exchange for him never releasing it or the source code again. The author seemed pleased with the outcome and did not characterize it as a lawsuit.

You can read about it here:

http://members.ozemail.com.au/~msteveb/niggle/

Hasbro/Handmark did buy it out and re-brand it as Scrabble, but made it so easy that it was no fun to play at all. The computer would sometimes score 2 points on Hard, when there were 50 point words available.

So, for those of you who are saying that Hasbro would never do such a thing, they might. They’ve done it before.

They would be wise to pay these guys off and embrace the popularity, which Scrabble hasn’t had in years.

Shaun says:

This is crazy

Why would you want to ruin the fun people are having Hasbro? Answer that! It is a new time in life the board game was great 20 years ago but now life and times have changed and suing is not the answer! Grow some guts and drop this silly law suit and focus on your own pr and other things other then someone who took a game you created and put a fun twist on things and made it their own version!!

addictedtoscrabble says:

i will stop buying any hasbro products if they take down scrabulous. the scrabulous guys are not making much off the enterprise, anyway.

they should form a partnership with the scrabulous guys or buy them out.

scrabulous has brought a huge amount of interest in scrabble!

my husband and i bought travel scrabble and a regular scrabble board since our interest has been piqued this last year by scrabulous.

hasbro needs to join the internet age. get on board or watch the hundreds of thousands of scrabulous players stop buying your products. everyone is talking about a boycott in the scrabulous rooms……

nonplussed says:

Hasbro has magical "web bug" gifs

I just read the Hasbro website’s privacy statement:
“Clear GIFs, sometimes called “Web bugs,” are file objects, usually a graphic image such as a transparent one pixel-by-one pixel GIF (Graphics Interchange Format, one of the two most common file formats for images on the Web), that are placed on a Web page or in an e-mail message to monitor user behavior. The GIF tells us the IP address of the computer that fetched our page, the URL of the page the GIF is on, the time the page was viewed, the type of browser used, and can tell us a previously set cookie value.”
Wow, a 1px by 1px transparent gif can do all that? I’ve been in web development for 12 years, and I’ve never managed to get mine to do that (not that I’ve used transparent gifs since about, ohhh, 1995).

nonplussed says:

Re: Re: Hasbro has magical "web bug" gifs

I do realise that. But the way they tell it, it’s the gif that does all that, not a third party counter. Like we’re too stupid to know more. It’s a stork/baby story.

And in that same 12 years I referred to before, I’ve never heard of this technique being called “web bugs”.

bill says:

Re: Hasbro has magical "web bug" gifs

I’ll try to explain how it works…

When a request is made for a web page containing the invisible 1×1 gif, the request is logged in the web server’s logfile.

By extracting info from the log, (IP address) you can get information on usage, certain behaviors, ect.

12 years huh? I’m surprised you’ve never heard of this trick….

Carl Williams says:

Re: Hasbro has magical "web bug" gifs (OFF TOPIC)

It’s the server logs that tell them. The point of “web bug” gifs is they can be hosted on one server and linked from all over the place, so your visit (if you automaticaly load gifs) is logged on Hasbro’s server (say) even if you visit a page on a completely different server which has a page with one of their GIFs in it.

The point of being 1×1 pixel and transparent is that you won’t see these GIFs at all, nor do they take any time to load. Lots of people use this kind of trick to track users across a variety of web pages.

The cookie thing works like this: When you visit Hasbro’s website, they give your browser a cookie, which might identify your session or even user ID if you log on to their website in some way. If your browser is well-behaved, it won’t pass that cookie to some other random server, only to the one which gave it to you. However, if there’s an image linked back to Hasbro’s website from, say, Amazon.com or somewhere, Hasbro will get your IP address, any cookies they’ve given you, etc etc, when you look at the page on Amazon.com. Or whatever. It’s only sinister if you use this kind of approach creatively. Embedded off-site javascript, java and flash animations are all FAR more interesting and potentially damaging.

If you want to keep marketeers from profiling your web surfing habits, turn off java, javascript, auto-loading of images from other sites, disable flash and shockwave, NEVER use Internet Explorer (or the AOL browser), get (say) Firefox and plugins like NoScript. If you surf to the less reputable corners of the web sometimes, *definitely* disable flash and java/javascript, there are some evil exploits around. If you’re REALLY paranoid, use anonymising proxies and tunnel your connections…

Sandy D says:

Scrabulous

All of those Scrabble players need to check out the Hoyle site for Doublecross and Wordox. Both games take the traditional Scrabble board and give it a little zing. You can find Hoyle at http://hoylegames.igl.net/ . Because of the screwy way in which Hoyle uses ports on your computer gaining access to the playing rooms is a little tricky with the security settings on your firewall. Be assured it is a safe and fun site. Check the Hoyle forum for solutions to game loading problems.

Ash (user link) says:

It's explainable why it took Hasbro so long

As it’s been mentioned, there are quite a few free versions of Scrabble on the web. Some of them exist for a lot longer than Scrabulous (ISC, ThePixiePit, Quadplex). Quadplex for instance even charge money! But it’s not as popular for that reason, and I assume it generates less profit than Scrabulous. I think Hasbro’s folks just wait for any site to get as high as Scrabulous did, and then slam it. The higher you get, the harder you fall. Seems pretty logical to me, if I wanted to punish a competitor.

Harmony says:

Hasbro

About 10 years, I bought several CD’s of Hasbro Interactive email Scrabble games. Hasbro then sold it to a company that had it up and running for a while. Then they took her down because they didn’t want to maintain it. I wrote to Hasbro’s president and he said they weren’t interested in maintaining
a Scrabble site. But they sure don’t want anyone else to enjoy playing the game. I think Scrabulous is a great site and I play on thepixiepit, too and word biz. All good sites.

Anon. says:

Trademarks

Hasbro has to eventually sue if it sent a cease & desist letters are not acted upon. U.S. trademark law requires that the owner of a registered trademark must defend its mark against infringers or the owner loses its rights to the mark. In Hasbro’s case, that’s seven registered trademarks: Reg. Nos. 76370539, 76542506, 75733569, 73199812, 72213157, 71652971 and 71570633.

That’s a lot to lose.

Emerald Mosser says:

Scrabulous is a great site that is not just a “Copy” of the popular Scrabble board game. It has a huge fan following and allows users to use 2 different dictionaries so that you can have your choice depending on more popular words in your culture. The owners of the site have a family friendly atmosphere and have contacts 24/7 in case there are any problems. They don’t put up with cheating, name calling or quitters, which makes this an outstanding site. Given all the porn and gambling sites out there, it’s nice to find a site which I would have no problem for my children to visit. Hasbro should rethink this whole situation and allow them to keep this site running. My daughter has developed a love for the game since watching me play and I would guess that this is true of a lot of families. We bought a new board this past year and have rekindled a childhood love. If this site is taken down, I will boycott all Hasbro products in the future, as this is a very relaxing and fun site, copyright infringement or not. I fully support the Scrabulous owners. Please sign Scrabulous petition : http://www.petitiononlince.com and click on save scrabulous! THANKS!

Betty Powchik says:

Hasbro vs Scrabulous

I am one of the millions of Scrabulous online scrabble, but have been shut out by Hasbro. In my over 70 years, I have purchased numerous Scrabble games for my family and as gifts, but now I live alone and really enjoy playing Scrabble online with friends all over the world.
Hasbro should learn not to be so money hungry, like many of us, we have “payed the piper” several times over.

Brian Carnell (user link) says:

Hmmm

First, I absolutely hate playing Scrabble.

Second, although Hasbro is clearly correct that Scrabulous is infringing on its trademarks, Scrabulous exists because official efforts by Hasbro to create online offerings of Scrabble have been a disaster. As someone else mentioned, there was a CD-ROM that let you play Scrabble via e-mail or by directly connect with someone else over the Internet (i.e., you had to know the other person’s IP address).

So, Hasbro is ending up in the same situation as the music industry, suing folks who are providing what consumers actually want. The smart thing to do would be to buy it.

scrabblebabble says:

please, please don't take it away

i have purchased 4-6 scrabble boards in a lifetime. i have given them as gifts about a dozen times. just this christmas i gave someone a scrabble dictionary. my husband hates scrabble and everyone i know is too busy to play. i just lost my job and this is my only relaxation outlet. please, please don’t take it away!!!

Michael Voigt (user link) says:

Capitalism- what do you expect

We all have bills, and want to make money… we live in a capital based world. I wish that we could be in greed free social experiment in which people don’t have the need to make money. We could just give our ideas away and everything would be kum by ya. (60’s ballad playing)

If we send the message to inventors that their ideas will be stolen and capitalized upon by others without any royalities, would they want to invent?

I know better then to go out in the world and write the next installment of the Harry Potter series on my own. Or make a homage to Tetris and call it Tetriss …

We are going to have many more challenges like this with our new global market, a market that intrinsically doesn’t understand patents and copyrights.

leatoo says:

Scrabulous

Not very sporting of Hasbro to try to shut down Scrabulous, which they consider a “ripoff” of Scrabble. I thought that they were in the business of entertaining people. If their & D department were living in this century, they would have developed an online version years ago.

Thanks you to Rajat & Jayant for having the initiative to do develop Scrabulous and for providing many hours of entertainment!

All work and no play makes Hasbro a dull company!

stephanie long says:

scrabulous

I can only play my “Scrabble” game when my sisters or mom are visiting…which is like, once a year.
However, with “scrabulous”, we play online all the time!
It bridges the distance and provides loads of social interaction. I totally agree that Hasbro should work out an agreement to make this a win-win situation for all!

Dylan Nicholson says:

Long history

I think I had one of the first ever online versions of Scrabble up, around 1994 or 1995, all CGI. Hasbro basically told me to shut it down after a year, even though I sent them a petition demonstrating that several people had gone out and *bought* scrabble sets because my site had got them back into the game. Needless to say, after having to shut it down, my site’s many users were invariably pissed off with Hasbro and vowed never to buy Hasbro products again. I doubt they’ll ever learn.

roger spencer says:

ISC Scrabble

You should evoke the licence of this person s site.
He runs a 2 tier system. One for PAYING players and the other for non payers. Apparantly paying players have certain advantages and although it is vehermently denied, a number of players including myself are sure that ISC control tile distribution.They do not answer serious enquiries to non paying members and threy do not adhere to some off their rules.
There heplers are inept and very ineficient. They do not give serious answers and are on most occasions , no help at all. In my opninion, despite a huge following world wide you should monitor this site and see what you think. I think thy are a bunch of amatures

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