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Facebook Scrabble Rip-off Capitalizes on Mattel's Lethargy 216

Posted by Zonk
from the missed-a-bit-of-an-opportunity-there dept.
mlimber writes "The Facebook app Scrabulous was written by two Scrabble-loving brothers in India, has over 700,000 users, brings in about $25,000 per month in advertising revenue, and is in flagrant violation of copyright law. The corporate owners of Scrabble, Hasbro and Mattel, have threatened legal action against the creators and have made deals with Electronic Arts and RealNetworks to release official online versions of the game. But according to an NYTimes article, 'Scrabulous has already brought Scrabble a newfound virtual popularity that none of the game companies could have anticipated,' and according to one consultant to the entertainment industry, 'If you're Hasbro or Mattel, it isn't in your interest to shut this down.' Hasbro's partner RealNetworks is 'working closely' with the piratical brothers, but Mattel says that 'settling with the [brothers] would set a bad precedent' for other board games going online."
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Facebook Scrabble Rip-off Capitalizes on Mattel's Lethargy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:43PM (#22642504)
    firstpost
  • by Reverend528 (585549) * on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:43PM (#22642508) Homepage
    Copyright applies to an expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Scrabble is not an expression.

    The image of the board can be copyrighted. The manual can be copyrighted. The logo can be trademarked. But the rules of the game are not subject to copyright.

    • Unfortunately... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moryath (553296) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:50PM (#22642616)
      some fucktard in the USPTO ruled they could be patented.

      They let Magic:The Gathering have patents on turning a card sideways and upside down... nevermind that a good book on the tarot, or even an early-1900s copy of Hoyle's Book of Games, ought to be enough "prior art."

      Then again, these are the same fucktards who think you can patent a software loop that calculates a simple mathematical equation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by julesh (229690)
      Copyright applies to an expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Scrabble is not an expression.

      The image of the board can be copyrighted. The manual can be copyrighted. The logo can be trademarked. But the rules of the game are not subject to copyright.


      The arrangement of bonus squares could be subject to copyright. Also (although with somewhat less certainty) the selection of available letters could be subject to copyright. Change these, and you'll end up with a game that is somewhat like Scrabble, but
      • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:06PM (#22642826)

        The arrangement of bonus squares could be subject to copyright.

        I don't think this is true. You could patent the arrangement, but that would have expired by now. You could patent certain images in certain locations, but if, for example, a clone used a different symbol or text to indicate bonus squares I don't think that would be considered copyright infringement.

        Also (although with somewhat less certainty) the selection of available letters could be subject to copyright.

        Again, I think this would have to be a patent.

        Change these, and you'll end up with a game that is somewhat like Scrabble, but which isn't Scrabble and which isn't subject to copyright.

        I'm pretty sure copyright is a mistake made by the Reuters reporter. He references copyright, but the Mattel representative says "trademark" and "Scrablous" is pretty confusingly similar to "Scrabble" such that the average person could certainly think the former was made by the same person as the latter.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by ezberry (411384)
          What bothers me about these discussions on Slashdot is that 99% of the time, it's people that aren't lawyers, and don't really have a sense of what the law actually is.

          "I feel that the law is this way" really isn't a valid argument. Can either the parent or the GP point to some precedent - legislation, caselaw or anything to support their positions (no, not Wikipedia)? What jurisdiction would this be filed in? Is there any jurisdiction that would support Mattel or Hasbro's position? If so, I'm pretty sure m
          • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @07:44PM (#22644612) Homepage Journal
            That's silly.

            You have to be lawyer to give legal advice of course, but saying you always have to be a lawyer to have an opinion about what is legal implies that the law is nothing more or less than state coercion.

            The important thing about the law is that it divides what a person can do from what he can't. If an educated person of average intelligence can't tell what is legal or illegal, then he can't give voluntary consent to the law. He might not grasp the subtleties and implications of various aspects of contract law; but he should be able to have an informed grasp of something like the distinction between copyrights and patents.

            He certainly should be able to have an opinion about what the law should be.

            This is certainly an intriguing situation. Logically, the GP is correct; scrabble is a system. But clearly game systems are kinds of works that have been habitually accorded copyright protection. The problem is that there isn't a clear, logically unambiguous boundary between categories of things like systems and forms of expression. The law makes decisions as if there were precise boundaries, even though they don't exist. It has to because we expect it to. That's why you need a lawyer. Over time the law's line becomes more and more precise, but the underlying distinction doesn't change at all. In truth when you look at cases adjacent to a well established line but on opposite sides, the distinction between them is bound to be arbitrary. That's also why lawyers always qualify their advice in terms of probable outcomes; if they were on the other side of the case they could argue the other way; and there's no telling whether a clever opponent will manage to frame the case in a way that nudges it one way or the other if it is close.

            This is certainly one of those cases where assigning the work to the realm of invention or expression is arbitrary. The state of case law may be such that an IP lawyer could tell you with confidence which side of the line this falls on. However an equally competent lawyer, working in a parallel universe with a chain of case law that is equally justifiable, might give you an opposite answer. In fact, that happens all the time with lawyers working in different jurisdictions.

            And therefore non-professionals are entitled to their opinion. If they plan on marketing such a game, they'd be well advised to consult a lawyer, but not to tell them anything about expression or invention they don't already know.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by mdwh2 (535323)
            In that case, the burden is on the submitter of the story to cite legal precedents (no, not Wikipedia) that show that the rules of Scrabble are subject to copyright.
          • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @09:54PM (#22645586)

            What bothers me about these discussions on Slashdot is that 99% of the time, it's people that aren't lawyers, and don't really have a sense of what the law actually is.

            Actually I had already linked to this page [copyright.gov] which is the U.S. office of copyright's page for guidelines on copyrighting games. It specifically excludes the items I mentioned and since trademark does not apply to such items, patent is all that is left.

            "I feel that the law is this way" really isn't a valid argument.

            You're correct, excepting the fact that your statement is a straw man, since neither I nor the other poster claimed we felt anything, only what we thought.

            Can either the parent or the GP point to some precedent - legislation, caselaw or anything to support their positions

            Strangely I don't have a legal library handy. I did, however, cite public documents published by the government.

            What jurisdiction would this be filed in?

            Likely India for ease of getting damages.

            Is there any jurisdiction that would support Mattel or Hasbro's position?

            And what position, exactly, is that? Mattel, who has standing in this, has only talked about trademarks. Lots of jurisdictions will support their rights in that regard and they probably have a pretty slam-dunk case with Scrabble and Scrabulous being so similar.

            These are all important questions before you can start to argue abstractly on law you don't know about.

            You don't have to be an expert on intellectual property laws to have a reasonable handle on them, given that they are fairly uniform in most of the world. That applies double in a simple case like this.

        • I don't think this is true [that the arrangement of squares is protected by copyright] You could patent the arrangement, but that would have expired by now.

          While the arrangement of squares is not strictly protected by copyright in itself, the entire image of the game board is protected by copyright as an image. That protection extends to derivative works. Any board that used the same layout would be a derivative work infringing on that image. So while it is technically true to say the arrangement of squa

    • by abigsmurf (919188)
      surely game rules can be copyrighted much like the scenario behind movies can be?

      Also, the board has the same layout and same points for each piece as scrabble, it's clearly a direct clone of the game.
      • The text of the rules could be copyrighted, but the ideas behind them could only qualify for patent protection.

        In this particular case, Mattel may have reason for a trademark infringement complaint as well.
        • In this particular case, Mattel may have reason for a trademark infringement complaint as well.
          That's pretty much all they have a chance it, which is why it doesn't make sense to me that they would pursue this on a highly-questionable copyright claim. Unless their goal is to expand the scope of copyright.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Naughty Bob (1004174)

        surely game rules can be copyrighted much like the scenario behind movies can be?
        What, all five of them?
        • by WK2 (1072560) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @06:02PM (#22643578) Homepage
          I count seven:

          * black (sometimes Asian) cop, white cop
          * family man has crisis, family is there for him, or he discovers he doesn't need them
          * quest to kill bad guy
          * boy learns he has special gift, and then goes to avenge his parents/guardians
          * some tragedy strikes a town (such as monster attack), and a small group of people must kill monster, etc, or maybe leave.
          * hunted man must escape to freedom and kill his hunters
          * some guy must solve a series of obscure puzzles to find treasure/kidnapped girlfriend or family member/save world

          There's actually probably a few dozen movie plots. But I'm pretty none of them are copyrightable.
      • by tepples (727027)

        surely game rules can be copyrighted much like the scenario behind movies can be?
        Board games and movie plots [plotpatents.com] can be patented, but those expire 20 years after the inventor files the patent application.
    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:54PM (#22642672)

      The image of the board can be copyrighted. The manual can be copyrighted. The logo can be trademarked. But the rules of the game are not subject to copyright.

      Yeah, people are clueless about intellectual property. I dug up the original Reuters article [reuters.com] this is referencing, assuming somewhere along the line someone copying it had managed to confuse copyright and trademarks. Sadly, it appears it was the original reporter that screwed up. He says they threatened with regard to copyrights, but all the direct quotes refer to trademarks, brands and "intellectual property." Never once does any spokesperson for Mattel reference copyright directly.

      Note, trademarks are probably what are at issue since "Scrabulous" is easily confused with "Scrabble." The authors of the game should have picked something that did not reference the trademarked name.

      • I dug up the original Reuters article this is referencing, assuming somewhere along the line someone copying it had managed to confuse copyright and trademarks. Sadly, it appears it was the original reporter that screwed up. He says they threatened with regard to copyrights, but all the direct quotes refer to trademarks, brands and "intellectual property." Never once does any spokesperson for Mattel reference copyright directly.

        Which only serves to illustrate the confusion that blanket terms such as "intellectual property" create [gnu.org].

        Note, trademarks are probably what are at issue since "Scrabulous" is easily confused with "Scrabble." The authors of the game should have picked something that did not reference the trademarked name.

        Which is why I made sure to pick a name for LOCKJAW tetromino game [pineight.com] that doesn't have even one letter in common with "TETRIS".

    • by Max Threshold (540114) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:49PM (#22643428)
      "The idea for a game is not protected by copyright. The same is true of the name or title given to the game and of the method or methods for playing it.

      "Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author's expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in the development, merchandising, or playing of a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles."
      - http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html [copyright.gov]

    • by kestasjk (933987)
      I wrote an implementation of a board game called Diplomacy [phpdiplomacy.net], so I find that reassuring, but is it actually true?
    • The image of the board can be copyrighted.

      And those two brothers copied the board, right down to the colors for the various square types.

  • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionar ... minus physicist> on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:44PM (#22642516) Journal
    You can't copyright the rules to a game, sorry. Trademark violation, maybe.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chris Burke (6130)
      You can copyright a piece of visual art -- even if it's what you'd call "graphic design" -- and assuming the board of Scrabulous looks just like the real game board, then it very well could be a copyright violation.
      • If you just changed the font and the color of the board is that enough? How about the words? (E.g. use "2X Value" instead of "double word", etc.

        If that is enough, what if you made those things a user preference, and the users changed them to look like the original? If you don't distribute the offending "skin", are you in the clear?

        • by Chris Burke (6130)
          I'm no expert on the subject, all I know is that there is no clear cutoff on such things. I think "significant similarity" is the suitably ambiguous metric.

          After making that post, I went to scrabulous.com which has a screenshot, and the board has no writing on it but otherwise looks the same as the Scrabble board with the exact same pattern and colors for the normal squares and the double/triple letter/word score squares. That's probably enough to at least make copyright violation claim plausible.
    • by langelgjm (860756) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:54PM (#22642666) Journal

      Trademark violation, maybe.

      Right. Microsoft sued about the name "Lindows" as a trademark violation, not copyright. They didn't win, but they did settle, and it's not called Lindows anymore. "Scrabulous" is clearly making a reference to the Scrabble trademark, and is profiting from that reference. There are probably other issues, as people have mentioned, about gameplay (the layout of the board), but I think the thing with the name has got to be about trademark.

      • Do you know WHY Microsoft settled? It was looking dangerously close that they would lose Windows as a trademark entirely because of how generic it is, so they settled to make sure it didn't go to court. At least that's what I've heard speculated most reliably... I don't think the actual details were released.

        Which means that if you're trying to draw parallels here, Mattel is in for a world of hurt.
        • by langelgjm (860756)

          Do you know WHY Microsoft settled? It was looking dangerously close that they would lose Windows as a trademark entirely because of how generic it is, so they settled to make sure it didn't go to court.

          Yes, I've heard the same thing, and Wikipedia agrees. [wikipedia.org] However, the facts of this case are different. "Scrabble" is hardly a generic term (the word exists on its own in English, but it's nowhere near as common as "windows").

        • by Dogtanian (588974)

          Do you know WHY Microsoft settled? It was looking dangerously close that they would lose Windows as a trademark entirely because of how generic it is, so they settled to make sure it didn't go to court.

          This is interesting; there's a potential game of strategy here. Lindows could have told MS to piss off because they reckoned it at best (for MS) it wouldn't have stood up in court and at worst it would have actually damaged MS as you suggest.

          Had MS actually gone ahead with the threatened court case, I wonder whether they'd then have been able to pull out or demand some form of settlement (even if this involved *giving* money to Lindows) before any damaging judgement. Or whether Lindows would actually hav

        • That's an interesting theory.

          However, in the United States, I don't believe that Microsoft has a trademark on Windows, only on Microsoft Windows. As I recall, the term "windows" was considered too generic...

          That doesn't apply to other countries, though...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Eythian (552130)
      There's 26 different letters there, plus a blank. That's what's copyrighted :)
      • I implemented a scrabble game in PHP a few years ago but I called mine after the version in the Discworld series and altered the rules so that blanks could be a different letter in each orientation (not intentionally, I was just too lazy to implement the real rule). It was some really ugly code though, and I've been meaning to tidy it up and release it for about five years. I guess I won't bother now...
    • You can't copyright the rules to a game, sorry. Trademark violation, maybe.

      Well, you can copyright the rules, if you talk about the rules as a text document. But someone could write different, logically equivalent rules without infringing copyright.

  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:45PM (#22642526) Homepage Journal
    The problem is that free viral videos sell more music songs than killing off the viral vids, just as free viral social apps like Scrabilicious sell more Scrabble games for the licensors than kill off the free social app will.

    Don't kill off the goose that lays the golden eggs ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by iamhassi (659463)
      "just as free viral social apps like Scrabilicious sell more Scrabble games for the licensors than kill off the free social app will. Don't kill off the goose that lays the golden eggs ..."

      Golden eggs? Hasbro sells 1-2 million boards a year, and that's before the "golden egg" Scrabulous existed. They don't need Scabulous.

      However these brothers are still making 25k/mo on something Hasbro had to pay good money to buy [wikipedia.org]. And they already make a PC version of Scrabble [gamespot.com]. This is like someone making a onl
      • if you want to use someone's property

        You can't just steal it

        You are laboring under the false belief that ideas are the same as real property. They are not. Copyright, trademark and patents are all licenses that the citizens grant to the creators. They recognize that they are creating an imaginary "property" because they feel their is some benefit to it. It's not a fundamental right or something. It's not something that can simply be used as a hammer to prevent someone else from enriching society. It's society saying "we find that we will benefit more from l

  • This is really nice to see. Clear concise points, several opinions, and decent story background. good work, let's hope it keeps up.
    • You totally just jinxed it. Mark my words.
  • That you can't copyright game play? That defending virtual property is hard? What exactly?
    • by Achoi77 (669484)

      That Mattel isn't making money from the Scabulous app while the creators of the app are, and that they feel that they should be.

      Basically it sounds something akin to corporate extortion, in a legal sense (or course).

      • That Mattel isn't making money from the Scabulous app while the creators of the app are, and that they feel that they should be. Basically it sounds something akin to corporate extortion, in a legal sense (or course).

        Actually, Mattel does have a point. Someone is using a name "Scrabulous" which is easily confused with "Scabble" such that normal people could easily assume both were made by Mattel. It is making money using the good brand name Mattel built. As for the profit aspect, technically that is irrelevant according to current laws.

        • by Fex303 (557896)

          Actually, Mattel does have a point. Someone is using a name "Scrabulous" which is easily confused with "Scabble" such that normal people could easily assume both were made by Mattel.

          And that's exactly what I did when I first had my friends add this on Facebook and invite me to play. I was surprised when I realized that it was not actually made by Mattel (actually I couldn't think of the parent company), and was waiting for it to either quietly disappear or loudly have its ass sued. All of that said, Matt

          • by LingNoi (1066278)

            And that's exactly what I did when I first had my friends add this on Facebook and invite me to play.
            So you admit you're stupid enough to think that they wouldn't use their trademark name if it was official?
    • Just to be clear, what is the precedent? That you can't copyright game play? That defending virtual property is hard? What exactly?

      This link [copyright.gov] is the US Copyright Office's page describing how copyright applies to games. The relevant quote is:

      ...the text matter describing the rules of the game, or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container, may be registrable.

      Basically, copyright applies to the text and graphic elements, none of which are likely identical in this clone. What could be defended as intellectual property would be a patent on the mechanics of game play (which are almost certainly expired) and a trademark on the name "Scrabble" which does not expire and almost certainly provides an avenue for legal action since "Scrabulous" is clearly der

      • I'm actually a Scrabulous user myself (although not through Facebook).

        The board in the application looks identical to an actual Scrabble board as I recall. They also allow you to play using either The Word List (the official Scrabble tournament word list in the US, Canada, Israel and Thailand) or the international list (referred to as SOWPODS), have options for letting the system prevent bad words, or let player's challenge bad words, and time limits always enforced, despite what the article says.
        • They should just offer the guys in India a reasonable sum for the code, or maybe even get them development jobs and back off - it will be much better for PR than trying to shut the site down.

          That isn't an option. If they don't file suit, anyone at a later date can claim they allowed others to use a similar name to their trademark and it has been genericized, associated with any game of that sort instead of just Mattel's version. In the US, you have to defend trademarks or you lose them. They're trying to protect their brick and mortar business and the law gives them little option.

  • is in possible violation of copyright law
    Fixed that for you.
  • by recoiledsnake (879048) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:50PM (#22642612)
    Does EA need to develop a version of online Scrabble? What are they going to do, make a Directx 10 only version of it with Ageia physics so that it runs only on Vista with a hardware physics card? For a pro-flash developer I think it will take only a weekend of work to make a beta version of a clone of scrabble.
    • For a pro-flash developer I think it will take only a weekend of work to make a beta version of a clone of scrabble.

      Yes, and that also applies to a pro-flash developer working for EA. EA doesn't just write graphics-intensive 3D games.

    • by puppet10 (84610)
      Yes and then they need to release a new version each year - Scrabble 2008, Scrabble 2009, etc.

      With the top Scrabble players for each year included as opponents and small rule changes.

      Then 2k can release Word Tiles 2009, etc.

      and then the two companies can fight over rights for the tournament and player names.
  • by RedWizzard (192002) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:51PM (#22642632)
    How exactly is Scrabulous in "flagrant violation of copyright law"? Did they copy the text of the rules wholesale? Did they use the Scrabble trademark? Scrabulous may be a blatant rip-off of Scrabble, but it's not at all clear that it violates any of Mattel's intellectual property.
    • How exactly is Scrabulous in "flagrant violation of copyright law"?

      It isn't.

      Did they use the Scrabble trademark? Scrabulous may be a blatant rip-off of Scrabble, but it's not at all clear that it violates any of Mattel's intellectual property.

      "Scrabulous" is fairly clearly too similar to Scrabble for trademark law. That is the intellectual property issue here.

      • "Scrabulous" is fairly clearly too similar to Scrabble for trademark law.
        Is it? If it was "Scapple" or "Scabblo", sure. But I don't see "Scrabulous" infringing just because it shares the same first 5 letters. The two words don't look or sound particularly similar. Or are you saying that every computer company with a name starting with "Micro" is infringing Microsoft's trademark?
    • by mblase (200735)
      How exactly is Scrabulous in "flagrant violation of copyright law"? Did they copy the text of the rules wholesale? Did they use the Scrabble trademark?

      Well, according to TFA, "Scrabulous...has a board that looks just like Scrabble, and the same number of letter tiles with the same point values."

      If they'd rearranged the spaces on the board and the point values -- and they wouldn't be the first, Yahoo's been hosting Literati [yahoo.com] for quite some time -- they'd have been okay. But Hasbro has successfully gone after
      • by Alsee (515537)
        "Scrabulous... the same number of letter tiles with the same point values."

        The rules of a game are not protectable. A particular wording of the rules might be copyrightable, but not the rules themselves. The number of each letter, and the point value for each letter, are fixed by the rules and do not constitute creative copyright copying.

        "Scrabulous...has a board that looks just like Scrabble"

        No, it doesn't. A Scrabble board has creatively selected graphics on and around the playfield, has creatively select
  • Copyright (Score:4, Informative)

    by N7DR (536428) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @04:53PM (#22642656) Homepage
    Games are usually patented. Weirdly, though, Scrabble seems to have been copyrighted instead (http://www.mattelscrabble.com/en/adults/history/page6.html). It's pretty difficult for a non-lawyer like me to see how this is adequate protection. (If it was patented at some point, the patent must surely have expired anyway.)
    • by taustin (171655)
      Game mechanics cannot be copyrighted. It's very explicit. They can be patented, if they meet the requirements for originality, etc., but any patent would have expired years ago.

      What can be patented is artwork, including, possibly, the layout of the game board. Maybe. If it's original enough. And the name, of course, is trademarked. If the layout of the online version is identical, Mattel might have a case. Trademark infringement, maybe. But copyrighted? Not really.
  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:03PM (#22642786)
    From the summary:
    Hasbro's partner RealNetworks is 'working closely' with the piratical brothers, but some douchebag lawyers at Mattel says that 'settling with the [brothers] would set a bad precedent' for other board games going online."

    Not everybody at Mattel is a strategic idiot. But why should some douchebag lawyer let increased profits stand in the way of a good old fashioned pointless lawsuit?

    • But why should some douchebag lawyer let increased profits stand in the way of a good old fashioned pointless lawsuit?

      Actually, they have to bring suit unless they want to lose their trademark on the name "Scrabble" thus killing their brick and mortar Scrabble business.

  • by mcsqueak (1043736) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:05PM (#22642824)

    I fail to see the issue with what these two enterprising brothers have done. In my opinion, Mattel would never have thought about making a Scrabble facebook app... thus, in my twisted logic, they are not really being deprived of revenues they would have been otherwise earning. I know this doesn't really make it "right", but whatever. You snooze you lose.

    These companies, time and time again, show that they just "don't get" the current online world and are having a hard time figuring out how to transition and make a profit. Rather than suing these guys they need to hire them.

    • ...thus, in my twisted logic, they are not really being deprived of revenues they would have been otherwise earning...

      Lost revenue has little bearing on intellectual property anymore. Basically it only matters for how much can be claimed as damages for violations of registered trademarks after a takedown notice has been sent. Back in the 70's it mattered, but since then lobbyists have bought more restrictive laws.

      Rather than suing these guys they need to hire them.

      According to our laws, Mattel has little choice. If someone can show they knew about Scrabulous and did nothing, Mattel could lose their trademark on Scrabble and nothing would stop other companies from creat

    • by davidsyes (765062) *
      Probably some dim-wit bean counter decided that it wasn't worth it to develop a Flash version of it. ALL the games out there in Flash... you gotta wonder what is going on in the minds of these execs and their lackeys lacking vision.

      Would it have really been THAT hard, Mattel/Hasbro?

      Now, i can imagine them strong-arming Facebook to divert the weekly $25,000 take. But, maybe, out of spite, the advertisers of Scrabulous should terminate their advertising contracts and poison the well if Hasbro/Mattel come on l
      • by shark72 (702619)

        "Probably some dim-wit bean counter decided that it wasn't worth it to develop a Flash version of it. ALL the games out there in Flash... you gotta wonder what is going on in the minds of these execs and their lackeys lacking vision. Would it have really been THAT hard, Mattel/Hasbro?"

        There are various licensed Flash/Java/etc. Scrabbles and Scrabble variants on pogo.com, games.com and similar sites. I don't believe that Mattel/Hasbro developed them; rather, they licensed the rights to the game site oper

    • by mblase (200735)
      In my opinion, Mattel would never have thought about making a Scrabble facebook app... thus, in my twisted logic, they are not really being deprived of revenues they would have been otherwise earning. I know this doesn't really make it "right", but whatever. You snooze you lose.

      But the owners are making money, to the tune of $25,000 a month from online advertising. They're doing so with Hasbro/Mattel's intellectual property, without permission, and aren't sharing a dime.

  • They have a claim (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the computer guy nex (916959) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:06PM (#22642830)
    Naming a game "Scrabulous" obviously (court to decide) builds from the name Scrabble.

    Would Scrabulous be as popular if it wasn't instantly recognizable? Probably not.
    • Naming a game "Scrabulous" obviously (court to decide) builds from the name Scrabble.

      They might be confusingly similar. I don't find them to be, but as you say, a court would need to decide.

      Would Scrabulous be as popular if it wasn't instantly recognizable? Probably not.

      I don't agree. Particularly on Facebook popularity is a viral thing and the name has very little to do with it as people are not searching for these games by name. They are finding them because their friends have found them.

    • Naming a game "Scrabulous" obviously (court to decide) builds from the name Scrabble.
      Would Scrabulous be as popular if it wasn't instantly recognizable? Probably not.
      They should have named it "Definitely NOT Scrabble" - no chance of trademark confusion with that.
      • This made me laugh. I wonder if that would really hold up in court? My guess is no, but IANAL.
      • by Omestes (471991)
        Or SINS... for SINS Is Not Scrabble...

        Wait... something like this has been done before... crap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dissy (172727)

      Would Scrabulous be as popular if it wasn't instantly recognizable? Probably not.
      Tell that to the popular Yahoo game Literati ;}

      (Which btw is scrabble)

      Popular of course being relative. Most people that play yahoo games know of it and alot find it quite popular.
      I would say more so than the facebook version, which hasnt existed as long and doesnt have nearly as many online players it seems.

  • by Evets (629327) * on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:07PM (#22642848) Homepage Journal
    The fact that this is news to the guys who built Scrabulous just shows that they haven't done their homework. Mattel has been very aggressive about shutting down online scrabble implementations since the early days of the web.
  • written by two Scrabble-loving brothers in India
    Good luck with that guys.
  • by mjfgates (150958) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @05:14PM (#22642932)
    ... but no. SCRABBLE, feh. I wanna summon lions in the plains!
  • Rename it to Scripple. That's it!
  • "bad precedent" (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sehlat (180760)
    Which tells you just who really runs Mattel/Hasbro, and it isn't the CEO or stockholders, it's the lawyers.

    On the other hand, given that the company hasn't produced anything new in years that was worth paying attention to, this comes as a surprise how?
  • by femto113 (641226) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @06:02PM (#22643574)
    That's the "International Scrabble Club" at http://www.isc.ro/ [www.isc.ro] Servers are run out of Romania to avoid the legal issues. It manages to attract many of the best Scrabble players in the world.
  • Riskulous (Score:3, Informative)

    by bryanbrunton (262081) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @06:03PM (#22643588)

    The game of Risk (also a Hasbro property) has a multitude of imitations around the web, one of which is my web-based version, called Grand Strategy (www.denizengames.com). I've heard from the creators of other Risk games that they have been threatened by Hasbro if they have used Risk trademarks. I believe that the precedent is fairly clear: Hasbro and other corporate entities won't touch you if you stay away from trademarks, game rules cannot be copyrighted.

    What's amazing is how poorly done Scrabulous is. The site design, flow and presentation are incredibly weak. A fair amount of the site appears to be "under construction". And they're going to pay tens of millions for that?
  • Rights? Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @06:18PM (#22643746)
    I distilled the following from the Wiki entry [wikipedia.org]

    -Invented by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938. Was unable to sell the idea to the big game companies of the day, including Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley.

    -Sold manufacturing rights to entrepreneur, James Brunot in 1948 for royalties on each unit sold.

    -The game hit big, but Brunot was unable to keep up with demand. In 1952, sold manufacturing rights to Selchow and Righter (another of the game companies which had originally rejected the idea.)

    -In 1986, they sold the rights to Coleco, who then went bankrupt and were bought out by Hasbro

    So. . . 80 years and 5 different owners. Seems to me the various trademark laws have done their job in rewarding the original creator and those who helped launch the game into public awareness. Law of the land-wise, I really don't know nor care, but morally it seems to me that Hasbro is saying they're the only company allowed to create and sell the game simply because they happened to be dopey enough buy a stale patent. In my world, the makers of the digital version would be called entrepreneurs, not pirates.


    -FL

  • Why are the people that created a game evil when they defend their creation but some one that exploits the creation a white hat? They aren't even giving it away they're making 25K a month in ad revenue. Is the point that the owners or creators shouldn't be able to benefit only the ones that want to exploit some one else's work? It just seems every time the creators/owners are viewed as being unreasonable and the people taking advantage of their creation are viewed as striking a blow for liberty. Multiple pe
  • by pz (113803) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @07:40PM (#22644570) Journal
    Step 1: observe that board games are a dying market

    Step 2: actively and repeatedly suppress on-line implementations, despite the obvious unmet market need and potential source of revenue

    Step 3: when a wildly popular implementation pops up, instead of licensing it and splitting the revenue, try to squash it on shaky legal grounds

    Step 4: hire a big gaming company in the US to implement a new version at 10x the cost of licensing the developing-country version

    Did I miss anything? Sounds like a broken strategy, Mattel.
  • Turning it around... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by shark72 (702619) on Tuesday March 04, 2008 @07:55PM (#22644726)

    I know that sympathies are clearly with the Scrabblicious developers here, so I won't try to argue that point. The feeling in the community appears to be that since the guys aren't selling it and because Scrabble's been on the market for a while, it's fair game for a copy, and no authorization or payment to the rightsholder should be necessary. But, as a thought experiment, what would happen if the situation were reversed?

    1. Some independent developer comes up with a totally new game concept and codes it as a Facebook app. It's not something simple, like Sudoku, but a game with distinctive play mechanics, board artwork, and the like.
    2. Hasbro (or some similarly large commercial entity) then copies the game and starts making money off of it. Not an "inspired by," and not a new game that is evocative of the Facebook app -- a direct copy, down to the rules and gameboard artwork. They don't seek permission. And, they don't pay the rightsholder -- the independent developer who came up with the game.

    I think it's obvious that the consensus Slashdot sympathies would not be with Hasbro.

  • by Asmor (775910) on Wednesday March 05, 2008 @08:57AM (#22648582) Homepage
    If Scrabulous sets a bad precedent... What about BrettSpielWelt [brettspielwelt.de], a German program (available in English) which allows you to play dozens and dozens of the best board games to come out of that unlikely mecca of gaming.

A language that doesn't have everything is actually easier to program in than some that do. -- Dennis M. Ritchie

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