Another Game Innovator Is Shut Down By Copyright Claims

from the can-I-get-an-encore? dept

Over the past couple months we have covered the tale of Scrabulous, the popular Facebook application which brought the traditional game of Scrabble to the online environment. After more than nine months of threats, Hasbro, the owner of Scrabble, finally created their own version of the game and, more importantly, sued the makers of Scrabulous.

Now, an eerily similar situation is taking place through the iPhone App Store. The maker of a Tetris-like game called “Tris” reports that due to legal action by the Tetris Company, he is going to remove the application from the App Store. Apple, he says, demanded he resolve the dispute personally or they would “take action.” Although the developer believes he is on fairly firm legal ground, as a poor college student, he cannot afford the time or money to defend his application. He calls the approach “little more than petty bullying.”

This scenario and Scrabulous are indicators of the increasing importance of the platform operators who have the ability to shut down applications (and in the case of Apple, even disable previously installed applications). The developers who are building on these platforms are beholden to gatekeepers which, more often than not, err on the side of over-enforcement.

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Comments on “Another Game Innovator Is Shut Down By Copyright Claims”

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Mr Big Content says:

Innovation vs Copying

I think what Hasbro are demonstrating is true, undiluted innovation. The Scrabulous guys were just shameless copycats–how can you be innovative by ripping off someone else’s sacred, inviolable copyrights? But now the big guy has finally woken up, and is pushing his way into the market to show everybody how innovation is really done. And more power to imaginative companies like that!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Innovation vs Copying

You’re missing the point. The innovation was not the game itself, but rather offering the game as a Facebook application. That tapped into a brand new market with a lot of new players, many of whom were now also interested in purchasing the physical game as well as playing the online version.

So in this case, Scrabulous were the ones who introduced an innovation (the Facebook app) while Hasbro were the ones copying (making their own app after Scrabulous had proven there was a market). Hasbro weren’t interested in innovation in that area until someone else had done it.

=glu (user link) says:

Re: Innovation vs Copying

Obviously you’re intent with this comment was to shake some valuable opinions from informed and reasonable people.

It’s quite apparent that Scrabulous did neither develop its inventive platform with less restrictive games nor did it prepare for the eventuality of legal action. That being said, the author is correct when he calls Hasbro a bully.

The fight wasnt/isn’t fair.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Copyright as a Sticky Web

Think of copyright as a web of sticky tendrils. It’s the kind of thing that naturally tempts people into infringing it. As soon as they do, they get stuck to the web, and you can reel them in: what they create is a “derivative work” infringing on your copyright, so you get control of it.

This leaves you free to do your own version of their idea, while still retaining the moral high ground.

Copyright trolling–could work as a business model, don’t you think?

Mitur Binesderty says:

Protect that Trademark

Well said Lazarus. It would be like me making an OS and calling it ‘Dows and the company I would form to make this OS would be comprised of two main branches, ‘Pple for the creative people and ‘Icrosoft for the business side.

Of course “Windows” should have never been allowed to be trademarked since, as was so famously stated in the Pound Puppies case, “You can’t trademark the English language.”

Overcast says:

Tetris patents are serious business.

But seriously; these patent abuses costs these companies customers. DirecTV lost mine because of the issues they were creating.

Now, I’ll avoid any tetris ‘official’ game like the plague, just as I won’t buy a Scrabble game now. Too bad, didn’t have that one – I have a ton of other board games too. Those games, I’m actually not too fond of on the Computer anyway, even Monopoly.

After a few years, I may well forget…. why I refused to buy something, but the memory that I will refuse to buy it will persist. I guess I’m just radical like that, I wouldn’t shop one particular grocery chain in our area because of a bunch of hassles they gave me; don’t think I went back into that particular store chain for 12, 13 years.

I only do on occasion now, as they are the closest store to me, so I’ll buy some milk or such, but the are still losing my core business.

Too much competition out there to concern myself with unethical, rude, snobby, or otherwise garbage business out there.

another mike says:

Re: Re:

Now, I’ll avoid any tetris ‘official’ game like the plague, just as I won’t buy a Scrabble game now. Too bad, didn’t have that one – I have a ton of other board games too. Those games, I’m actually not too fond of on the Computer anyway, even Monopoly.

And the Scrabulous Effect rears its ugly head. When pursuing your legal rights is a bad business move.

Anonymous Coward says:

Come on . . .

I am with you on the fundamental problems with the patent system and really just the entire “idea” of intellevtual property, but lets not go crazy. A knock off of tetris is in no way “innovative”. I usually do a tetris clone when I am trying to learn new languages or platforms. Sounds like another college kid made a tetris clone (just like I and thousands of others did) he was just the first to get it up for the iPod. I dont see the “innovation” here at all?

Dave says:

I know this is not the cool thing to say around here, but the more I think about it the more I am on Hasbro’s side. If I made a Scrabble game with shot glasses and marketed it to bars with a name like ShotScrabble I would rightfully be sued. I think many of you are under the strange misconception the putting things on the web for consumption is a new idea. It isn’t anymore. If a company fails to innovate by reaching the largest audience that is their problem. It does not give you the right to steal.

If they had gone to Hasbro with the idea, or had come up with a patentable idea related to putting games on facebook then that would have been fine.

As for the Tetris case, it is laziness on the developers part. You can’t name a game tetris, tris, tetros, t3tri5 or anything similar. No more than I can open a burger joint and call it MacDonalds. If he was realy that uninspired and wanted to get the game out there with an understandable name then call it ‘Block Dropping Puzzle Game’.

Garry says:


It’s very inaccurate to call them “game innovators”. There is nothing innovative about ripping off a proven game mechanic, even if you’re bringing it to a new platform (Facebook). It is extremely difficult to create new, innovative game play that works; very few programmers have that skill. It is much easier to create a clone of an existing game, you just need to be a competent technician rather than a creative genius. Scrabble and Tetris are great examples of ground breaking innovation at it’s best.

Where’s the motivation for professional game developers to create the next blockbuster if the community allows and encourages lesser-skilled programmers to “knock it off”?

It’s inevitable that the state of the art progress through both evolution AND innovation. Artists in all fields (game design, music, art, etc.) are influenced by what comes before, it’s part of the creative process. But if we’re going to condone Scrabulous we might as well start cranking out DVD copies of “Toy Story” and “wall-e”, it’s pretty much the same thing.

Kevin Donovan (profile) says:

Re: innovation

There are thousands of new games that have been invented since Tetris and Scrabble. Look at or any number of video game sites.

Tris brought a new interface to a classic game and provided a much better experience than the EA version ( That’s innovation. Not groundbreaking, but nimble incremental change which has been stopped by a lumbering legal department.

Michael Sutterby says:


I wonder. The original Tetris was innovative. It broke new ground. There are a ton of copycat games that it spawned. Are they innovative? There is a case to be made that Tetris is an intellectual property that the company has a right to protect.

Scrabble, I don’t recall when it was innovative, it has been around a lot longer than I have. However I am sure at one time it was, and so it too spawned it’s share of copycats.

But what we have now is people taking risks and “Innovating” by taking others ideas and putting them on a new platform. It is my opinion that really they aren’t innovating, but are acting as a distributor. Rather than sue the companies or individuals that take these risks, I would pursue them as allies. And use them to help distribute your property.

But if we allow people to just blindly copy intellectual property and claim a new platform as their own then we dilute the ability of the original innovator to expand the scope of their innovation.

Anonymous Coward says:

“I wonder. The original Tetris was innovative. It broke new ground. There are a ton of copycat games that it spawned. Are they innovative? There is a case to be made that Tetris is an intellectual property that the company has a right to protect.”

LMAO you want an interesting story, take a look at who actually invented Tetris and how the trademark ended up where it is today . . . . it starts on a cold snowy winter day in soviet russia . . .

eleete (user link) says:


Apparently, not many people know the sordid history of Tetris and the many legal battles surrounding the original implementation. It was created in Russia, Moscow to be exact. Nintendo and Atari have battled in the courts as have many others. The ownership of the game is very murky. Yet here I see many people assuming that the company who owns the Trademark is somehow a poor little company that is being harmed and their ‘Work’ being stolen. It’s just the name folks. They own a trademark, not rights to the game. Not the creation/game being lifted. I fail to see where a game created in another country should be given monopolistic rights. For all I know, the company that trademarked the name stole it as well.

As for Scrabble, Hasbro waited quite a long time for their trademark/IP to be diluted before doing anything about it. The game created for Facebook is quite clearly a derivative work but is Not Scrabble the game with board and tiles. I shutter to think of the many examples of Derivative works being granted monopoly ‘rights’ these days. It was mentioned above that the Renaissance yielded much creativity, and IP rights were Not an issue in the least. Perhaps history needs to begin repeating itself to create the content rich world the law supposedly desires.

Clearly, hiring a legal team for both offense and defense is a costly proposition that destroys inspiration to innovate. The fear of being sued in our times acts to stifle innovation. No doubt about that.

I hope the weight of all these monopolies collapses itself. I see stories all the time where government representatives and agencies choose to ignore IP rights, as they are to cumbersome to deal with. The problem is, they enforce and fortify them for their constituents. A double standard indeed.

Tack Furlo (user link) says:

Clones, anyone?

I’m sure someone must’ve thought of this already, but isn’t Tetris like the single most cloned game ever? Ltris on Linux, Kevtris on Windows Mobile, etc. There’s a version of *tris for every platform since the dawn of time and beyond the Game Boy there’s practically none of them released by the original creators of Tetris. Beyond that, has the Tetris company released an “official” iPhone version or are they more or less kicking themselves out of the iPhone market by doing this?

If I were Apple, I’d settle this problem right now with a new policy: Apple should remove any program at the request of the copyright holder SO LONG AS the copyright holder will provide a version of the program with equal or better functionality, AND will provide a copy of the new program to all those who bought the old one, free. This way, people who buy Tris (or more importantly, an app that their business depends on) aren’t left out in the cold. I know that there used to be 2 things holding me back from buying an iPhone: Lack of a Jabber client and AT&T. Now there’s only AT&T, but if I purchased an iPhone, and a Jabber client, just to have Jabber, Inc. cry copyright and me be left without a Jabber client, you can bet I’d return the thing in a heartbeat.

Either way, it seems childish that when there are literally several hundred freely available clones of Tetris on every platform known to man that they’d sue (or even threaten to sue) some poor college student over an iPhone app. I know I use Kevtris on my HTC x7501 constantly and I have 3 “official” version of Tetris on my GBA. The GBA is almost worn out (I played it for over 7 hours yesterday alone!) but not from playing Tetris, because Kevtris on Windows Mobile is just a better game, period. The Tetris company should learn from Hasbro’s mistake – if this guy’s app is good, offer to buy it from him. Who knows, if Jabber, Inc. takes the same approach I may be playing both on an iPhone (or at least an iPod Touch) soon.

Isaac K (profile) says:

Re: Clones, anyone?

The thing is, by respecting “first clone rights” on a new platform, you are encouraging EVERYONE (including the original producer) to jump on producing content and making the platform valuable. If Hasbro or Tetris could simply have the product removed when ever they felt like lumbering their gargantuan corporate bodies into the market, then the incentive for ANYONE to innovate is gone – the cloners get nothing, the companies have no pressure to move – is a classic game theory Nash equilibrium. It takes money and effort for larger companies to produce content, so they would rather not, and smaller producers are cowed by legal threats, preventing them from initial action.

Jay says:

It seems the Tertris issue is different, but I have to make a point about Facebook.
Facebook is worth HOW MUCH? They couldn’t do the right thing by their beloved members (ie cash cows) and come to an arrangement with Hasbro to give their beloved members a kosher version or kick back something to prevent a lawsuit. Come on, you want Hasbro to be the bad guy but what about Facebook? Why is Facebook perceived, like Google, to be a wonderful fluffy company that exists to make your life easier?

Isaac K (profile) says:

Wait... scrabble?

Isn’t scrabble just a free-form knockoff of the classic crossword puzzle put in reverse?
innovation? eh, maybe, but only in muddling with an already existant process.
connect four? a modification of tictactoe, which is a simplification of pente, which is a relative knockoff of Go, which is considered to be the Chinese Chess

Sharikou (user link) says:

Redmond King Sends Chinese Hacker to Jail

A Chinese hacker named Hong Lei was arrested during the Beijing Olympics for distributing what is believed to be an “enhanced” version of Windows XP. Apparently, many people are not buying Windows Vista, because Hong Lei’s Tomato Garden variety was XP inside with the vanity of Vista. Instead of whipping its incompetent programmers who keep piling up bloated noodle code, Redmond King decided to take on an easier target — a one man operation which cracked all security measures Microsoft has invented and yet to invent. This time, the vole had the blessings of Chinese armed police. Turned in by Redmond spies, Hong Lei was reportedly dragged away from his computer desk and disappeared from planet earth. Hong’s father said he had no idea where the son was, with teary eyes.

But, the Chinese online community is crying foul. They say Bill Gates silently permitted Hong’s operations for years, and had effectively put Windows into the public domain. Implied license, laches, estoppel, statute of limitations, case laws — the Chinese are quick to learn all those American legal hoopla and shell game.

Well, the King can do no wrong, even in China.

Anonymous Coward says:

Scrabulous seemed like obvious infringement to me, the game relied entirely on the existing board design and rules of Scrabble. If someone said “What’s scrabulous?” it would be pretty common for the response to be “oh it’s online Scrabble, I play it on Facebook.”

That said, I’m not really happy with the extensions given on copyright today, largely from the Sonny Bono Act. Copyrighted portions of Scrabble (the visual board design is likely copyrightable) should have gone public domain in 1993, or even 2013, but it’s not going to until 1994.

numnut says:

There is no way any sane person can claim Scrabulous was a derivative work. Also anyone saying that its a derivative work because its sold/distributed in a new way, or uses a new way to move the game pieces are delusional. They stole a game concept, made a cheap copy of the game and now claim that they are innovators! Priceless and more then a bit clueless

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