Scrabulous, the latest online gaming craze, which is a direct copy of Scrabble, has become embroiled in a legal dispute with Scrabble's owners, Hasbro and Mattel. Following legal action, Facebook has removed the addictive distraction from its site for all users other than those in India.
The game was first pulled for American and Canadian users in July as a result of Hasbro attempting to sue the Indian-based creators of Scrabulous and having requested Facebook to remove the game for violating copyright law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Mattel owns the rights to Scrabble outside of the US and Canada and due to the commencement of legal action by Mattel, Facebook has subsequently pulled Scrabulous for all other users (other than those in India).
Hasbro and Mattel claim that their product, only recently available in online format, is being undermined by Scrabulous, which has gained huge popularity among online gamers throughout the world, and therefore commenced proceedings against the founding brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla. Facebook was sent a copyright notice ordering it to remove the Scrabulous application from its site, but faced with adversity it was quick to assert that it wished to remain neutral. In the end it was in fact the Agarwalla brothers who removed the Scrabulous application voluntarily after Facebook passed the notice onto them. Given their location, this is perhaps why users in India are the only people still able to access the application on Facebook, as opposed to any relative weakness in the intellectual property laws of that jurisdiction.
It is perhaps surprising that Scrabulous lasted for as long as it did, given the recent online availability of Scrabble and clear potential for profit for such a product. Despite the rather tenuous arguments that this application fulfilled an educational role, Hasbro and Mattel view Scrabulous as a blatant case of intellectual property theft and are naturally keen to protect their brand.
The Indian courts are currently considering the dispute and Jayant Agarwalla has predictably attacked Mattel's actions on the basis that it has failed to wait for the decision of the courts. After Scrabulous was pulled from Facebook in the US the Agarwalla brothers launched "Wordscraper," a game very similar to Scrabble that made changes to its name and appearance in a bid to evade further infringement claims.
This is yet another example of intellectual property rights being exercised in the electronic world. It would have been interesting to see what might have happened had the Agarwalla brothers fought back against Mattel and Hasbro rather than instructing the removal of the Scrabulous application themselves, but this example will nonetheless provide some comfort to brand owners that by being proactive they can protect their product. Just how far Hasbro and Mattel wish to go will become clear in the coming weeks and, in particular, whether "Wordscraper" will be pursued on a similar basis.