back to article Hasbro fires off legal letters over Scrabulous

Hasbro Inc, which owns the US and Canadian rights to Scrabble, has asked Facebook to remove its online version "Scrabulous", Reuters reports. A spokeswoman for Mattel in Britain, which owns the Scrabble rights to the rest of the world, confirmed: "Letters have been sent to Facebook in the United States regarding the Scrabulous …


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  1. Ian S

    That's all 7 letters and a bonus of 50 points to me then!

    "Letters have been sent", but did they appear on a triple word score?

  2. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    Take a look at the library "Scrabble" image on the BBC...

  3. Anonymous Coward


    Look at their site:

    How on earth were they awarded a trade mark - it's obviously "passing off". Amazing.

    Who are the sinners here, the coders or facebook ?

    If CNN put a game on their site that contained someone else's intellectual property, but generated much traffic (and hence revenue from advertising), think they would be the criminals, not the people who coded it...

  4. Tim Spence


    Do Hasbro and Mattel own the rights to "Scrabulous", as well as "Scrabble" then?

  5. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Down

    Shooting them selves in the foot

    I bet they've sold thousands more sets since Scrabulous appeared - it's certainly got a new generation enthused about Scrabble. Why don't they licence/buy out the company involved?

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Doncha Mean...

    'Kolkata'? Wouldn't be a legal Scrabble hand in itself, mind.

    Anal retention. Anorak, TCP, I'm gone...

  7. David Cornes

    Not that surprising

    I have to admit, I've been playing Scrabulous quite a bit since I was sent a link to it (one of the few reasons to log into Facebook IMO), but my first thought when I saw it was "how are they getting away with that?" Now it seems the answer is "they're not" :-\

    No doubt the simplest resolution will be to licence the game, and/or share some of the lovely ad revenue I bet they're making...

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Shame if it goes

    Looking forward to Riskulous and Monopulous.

  9. Ash

    @Tim Spence and Ian Ferguson

    Tim Spence: Microsoft Vs. Lindows, Inc. Not a great moment in IP history, but yes, they do own Scrabulous.

    Ian Ferguson: Howso? This is a pair of programmers DIRECTLY profiting from the proliference of the Scrabble brand and game mechanic. So they've changed the method of delivery for the content (It's on a web page, not in a box on a shelf). So what? There's nothing NEW here. Nothing was CREATED, only ripped apart and given a change of scenery. It'd be like if Travel Scrabble was created by some other company and called "Scrab-Travel". The pair deserve to be on the rough end of some serious legal repercussions.

    I've just had a thought: Would the above logic compare to Windows being an imitation of MacOS? Linux of any other WIMP based GUI? There seem to be two sides to this coin, and i'm not sure which I prefer.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    Apparently Facebook told them...

    ... to "phuq oph".

  11. Jason Miles

    They don't license because they don't have to

    It's not Scrabulous's place to decide how they get to use someone else's IP. If Mattel doesn't want to license, they don't have to. My guess is that they wish to protect the "feeling" of board games. They may also be concerned with not being able to have control of the quality of the game.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    they're 'aving a larf was under construction when I looked

  13. Simon Goodwin

    why bother?

    why bother, kill scrabulous, develop your own facebook app, ship it out, no need to buy out the developers

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time for El Reg to step in

    With S'crapulous, a game for BOFH and journo types to play the day after the beer bash.

  15. Darren Coleman
    Thumb Down

    Fashion trumps common sense

    I love the way people rationalise copyright infringement when it happens to be on a popular website.

    As already remarked Scrabulous = Scrabble in WWW form. Arguing that "I bet they've sold thousands more sets since Scrabulous appeared" is a convenient (weak) argument when it's neither proveable nor relevant in a legal dispute.

    Re: Ash - I'm not sure that comparing OS GUIs is valid. OS GUis tend to be shaped around the mechanics of how they are operated (keyboard, mouse, screen) and it's pretty much set in stone now how OS have to behave in accordance with an "anticipated user experience". Or something. Bottom line: OS GUIs generally have to all follow the same lines - files, folders, windows, icons, mouse pointers, etc - otherwise they present too steep a learning curve for users who just expect things to work in certain ways.

  16. James Grinter

    What do Hasbro (and Mattel, and Spears) actually claim ownership of?

    Is it the board design, the actual wording, the instructions on how to play?

    I have been reliably informed that it's actually very hard to protect a board game concept, though there is obviously copyright on art work, and to some extent the design (but can the bonus word/letter score positioning be copyrighted? Or the tile letter frequency distribution? And what about time limits on copyright? Apparently the one patent granted - U.S. Patent 2,752,158 - which may not even apply to Scrabulous, was granted in 1956.).

    Remember, "intellectual property" is an umbrella concept invented by lawyers, not law makers.

    So Hasbro will undoubtedly 'send letters', but in the end it will probably depend upon who has the deepest pockets and who backs down first.

  17. Nick

    @oli : Not to mention...


    Oh. Already in play.

  18. AListair

    I could be wrong but

    i understood that the game itselfwas no longer copyright/patented/whatever , just the name.

  19. mixbsd

    Not exclusive to Facebook

    I registered with Scrabulous and played a few games on Saturday and I'm not on Facebook.

    Total arse if the site gets pulled.

    Mind you, Mattel is very litigation-happy when it comes to trademarks:

  20. Jolyon Ralph


    Try for that. And thankfully you don't have to join any of those facespace nonsense sites to use it.

  21. Philip Bune
    Dead Vulture

    Hate em

    When Hasbro bought the rights back for the game, it resulted in places Like Atari.Play having to remove a large swathe of popular stuff, Scrabble/Boggle being one of them.

    Many a free scrabble/boggle player was left homeless after that & there has never been a suitable alternative.

    Even Hasbro said they would not be doing on-line versions.

    Sickening to kill those games off from other sites

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How many points is that?

  23. Steve Oliver

    Channelling Barry Cryer...

    Hang on a minute... no... I thought I had flatulence. But I haven't got the F in flatulence.

  24. Paul

    scrabble PC game

    I have a copy of Hasbro; it's quite old, I picked it up cheap in Albuquerque USA probably 6+ years ago. (C) date is 1999. Although it was designed for Win95 & 98, it does play on W2k/pro, I've not tried it on XP.

    The back says "scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro in the USA & Ca, rights elsewhere in world held by J.W. Spear & Sons" (my abbrev's).

    The back of the disk specifically says "compete with the computer, up to 4 human players or over the internet or LAN". In fact, I think when I first played it, it did have network play and there was some sort of server, but I didn't do it much as I didn't have broadband.

  25. Jim


    Is known as Attack! on Facebook, when seeing that I wondered how long it would take somebody to find a vice and start squeezing though so far nope.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    intellectual property

    Hasbro has every right to protect the 'intellectual property' of Scrabble - given the hundreds of thousands of man hours invested in the research and development of the highly complex board game that is Scrabble®™©$$$!!!! :-D

  27. Mike

    Two things

    1) If the game is copyrighted, it will be "in perpetuity" in the US, or until we get a reasonably non-corrupt SCOTUS, which amount to the same thing.

    2) Just shows that Mattel execs don't do Facebook, but do watch "60 Minutes". As soon as I saw the "online scrabble" in last Sunday's Zuckerview, I thought "Lawsuit!"

  28. Richard Tobin

    Copyright law?

    Presumably what they actually spelled out was trademark law.

  29. Scott


    "If CNN put a game on their site that contained someone else's intellectual property, but generated much traffic (and hence revenue from advertising), think they would be the criminals, not the people who coded it..."

    But the point is it is the developers who get the revenue from advertising. Otherwise an IP/trademark/copyright issue online would be the fault of the hosting provider

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @intellectual property

    You should read how the game was developed. As they say, it is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    Hasbro/etc have rights to the specific layout of the game board, to the game mechanics essential to it (ie, triple word scores in specific places) and scoring, because those elements make the game playable. Change them a little and things get screwed up - kind of like the game balance in Quake 1 being all about the rocket launcher.

    So, the makers have every right to sue these guys. If I owned the IP to something similar and other people just flat out ripped it off, I'd be pissed.

    However, it's about *business* and it's almost certainly not in Hasbro's best *business* interest to smack these guys down. Like somebody said - licensing with control is probably the best option. Unfortunately, though, larger rights holders often seem to be unaware of other options in cases like this.

    There are other cases where game mods and so forth get 'foxed' where there's a big hue and cry, but there are legal issues which *force* the rights holders to enforce, and which prevent them from licensing. A good example was a popular NASCAR simulation that came out in 2003: The IP ended up split between three parties - the code to one, the name licensing to another, and the publication to another. When guys made modifications to the *code*, the code rights holders were legally obligated to enforce THEIR copyright because if they hadn't, they'd have been liable for the modders' infringement on the split-off rights holders' IP.

    Naturally, this was completely lost on the community, who promptly tarred the company in question as evil bastards regardless of the facts.

  31. Spleen

    @AC 22:48

    How many hours it took to make Scrabble I dunno, but it is one of the best, finely balanced games in the world. If there had been too many of one letter with too many points or if the triple word scores had been too accessible, it wouldn't have lasted as long as it has, let alone got to the point of being in The Times daily above the chess puzzle. It took both a flash of genius and, presumably, many hours of balancing to create.

    Hasbro is perfectly entitled to protect their intellectual property. Whether they would make more money or sell more sets by licencing it is irrelevant - that's their decision.

    And more than one freetard has suggested that Hasbro should *buy* Scrabulous. Which is like going to the guy that burgled your house and buying all your heirlooms back off him. Not how the real world works. It's out there - turn off Facebook, stop reading open source and Ron Paul campaign blogs and open your front door.

  32. David Shepherd

    Have to defend yout trademarks

    I think the main issue is that with trademarks you have to be seen to be defending your trademark or you lose it ... Scrabulous may be good for Scrabble in that it gets more people interested in the overall concept leading to them buying the original game ... however if Hasbro/Mattel didn't take any action then someone could come out with a "Scrabul" game and if H/M sued could say "you didn't do anything when Scrabulous copied the name so you've effectively relinquished the trademark". I think "asprin" is always quoted as the big historical precident for this - it was a trademark but was eventually deemed in court to have become a generic term because the owners hadn't shown any effort in defending it.

  33. Name

    Plenty of better alternatives

    Not surprised Scrabulous got targetted, if only because of the name. Do you really think Facebook would ignore an identical site calling itself Facebuke for example?

    Still, there are plenty of better Scrabble-type games available which don't infringe any trademarks and which offer plenty of extra features not available in Scrabble. Try CrossCraze for a start.

  34. Dominic Sweetman

    Copyright on scrabble

    If it was just a trademark, "Scrabulous" could just change its name (assuming it's plausible that it confuses -- it seems pretty distinct to me).

    Any patent (there was a 1956 US patent relevant to the scrabble board) expired long ago.

    So what's left is copyright. The inventor of scrabble died only in 1993 and -- in the UK at any rate -- I believe this is treated like an artistic work, so that's 70 years after the death of the author. But apparently courts are inclined to limit the copyright to fairly precise reproduction of artwork... this could run on.

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