Hasbro Lawsuit Against Scrabulous D-R-O-P-P-E-D

December 16, 2008 10:53 AM
by Anne Szustek
Hasbro is dropping its lawsuit against the creators of the Scrabble copycat Scrabulous, which was especially popular on Facebook. So what’s next for the game and its fans?

Hasbro Abandons Scrabulous Lawsuit

Hasbro officially dropped its lawsuit against popular Facebook Scrabble clone “Scrabulous” Friday, according to court documents from U.S. District Court in New York.

It is unclear why the toymaker dropped the case, or what will happen to the Facebook application that was taken offline after Hasbro filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against in July. R.J. Softwares, the Calcutta-based company founded by the brothers behind the Scrabulous Facebook application, have consented not to use the name “Scrabulous” and have since offered other word games for use on the social networking site.

Electronic Arts, who owns the U.S. and Canada online rights for Scrabble, launched its own Facebook version of the game soon before Hasbro filed its lawsuit. It never garnered the same popular acclaim as Scrabulous, however, as evidenced by its 8,900 daily users, compared to the 49,000-odd members of Facebook group “Save Scrabulous.”

“Perhaps Hasbro is also backing off because of the major backlash against the company from avid Scrabulous fans,” writes tech blog VentureBeat. “As of today, Scrabble Beta has a whopping 1.3 out of 5 star rating based on 581 reviews. But more likely, Hasbro is happy to avoid drawn-out and expensive litigation. Because lawsuits are F-U-N.”

Arguably the most well-known of the newer R.J. Softwares games is Wordscraper, which went live days after Scrabulous was taken offline. But that game has not achieved the same user numbers as did Scrabulous.

Background: Scrabble vs. Scrabulous

Calcutta-based software creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, both Scrabble aficionados, developed Scrabulous when their favorite online version of the game began to charge users. The brothers first launched a Web site for their version, but the game’s popularity surged when they released it as a Facebook application.

The week of Jan. 19, Hasbro, the U.S. owners of Scrabble, sent a letter to Facebook asking that the social networking site remove the Scrabulous application. "Save Scrabulous" Facebook groups popped up in response.

Jayant Agarwalla was quoted on Fortune magazine’s Techland blog saying, “I’m not sure why Hasbro actually picked on this,” noting that there are numerous online versions of Scrabble, including the one that provided inspiration for his own.

The main difference is that Scrabulous was getting some 512,000 hits per day. On July 24, Hasbro filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Jayarwalla brothers.

Mark Blecher, Hasbro general manager for digital gaming, told Time magazine in July that “Scrabulous is in obvious copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which is enforceable in the U.S. and Canada, and that Hasbro has also sued for damages, attorney fees and profits from Scrabulous.” Mattel, which owns the overseas rights to Scrabble, filed a similar lawsuit in India.

And the timing might not have been arbitrary: Electronic Arts, which owns the U.S. and Canadian online rights for Scrabble, released a beta version for Facebook in July that Time magazine called “slow and clunky.” Rumors circulated in March that RealNetworks was looking to purchase Scrabulous. But instead of partnering with the Scrabulous creators, RealNetworks opted to release “Scrabble by Mattel,” available only to Facebook users outside of the United States and Canada.

Opinion & Analysis: Was a lawsuit the right move for Hasbro?

But was a lawsuit really the most strategic business move during the Internet age? Sophie Heawood of The Independent noted in January that many Scrabulous players have purchased the Scrabble board game after developing a cyber-addiction to the lexical puzzle.

And Fortune’s Josh Quittner said if he were Hasbro and noticed someone developing an electronic version of one of his games, “Once it got to scale, I’d sweep in and take it over.”

Caroline McCarthy, social networking blogger at CNet, wrote in January that, despite the protests of procrastinating workers and students everywhere, Hasbro has a point: “Scrabulous really does mirror Scrabble letter-for-letter: the ‘Rules of Scrabulous’ section of Scrabulous’ FAQ even redirects to the Wikipedia page for Scrabble.”

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