Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scrabble v. Scrabulous

There is, on the one hand, having a legal right to one's intellectual property. On the other, there is the question: does it make business sense to assert that right to shut down an infringer?

Looking to cut down its main competition and most high-profile copycat in the growing market for social gaming, Hasbro has sued the two Indian brothers behind the popular Web game Scrabulous, which has more than half a million regular users on the social network Facebook.

Hasbro, the Rhode Island company that owns the trademark to the 60-year-old board game, Scrabble, on which Scrabulous is closely based, has also asked Facebook to remove the game under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, saying that it infringes the company’s intellectual property. Facebook has not yet responded to or commented on the request.

A copy of the complaint is here (pdf).

As Josh Quitner writes, "[A]s a tech writer and life-long student of what passes for Internet economics, I’m baffled. Is Hasbro just a stupid Potato Head? Or is this a brilliant game of Stratego?" And Mike Masnick observes:
The Scrabulous/Hasbro situation is a perfect example of Matt Mason's thesis that "piracy" is almost never about "theft." It's almost always a market indicator that the market is unhappy with what's being offered. It's the market showing companies what they want.


wink lady said...

Hasbro did a good job of recognizing what the market wanted and signing on with EA to develop and sell scrabble computer games and iPhone/iPod apps. Looks like they won in the end despite everything.

peter said...

Wink Lady,

You may be right. Certainly the Hasbro/EA deal to deliver Scrabble through the iPhone using Facebook Connect tools (see http://www.tuaw.com/2009/03/24/scrabble-for-iphone-gets-a-facebook-boost/) seems to be a smart move to win back the Facebook based market for electronic Scrabble. But if Hasbro had been a little smarter in the first place it wouldn't now have to "win back" that market. I don't think many people last year were questioning Hasbro's legal rights to stop Scrabulous. Rather, most of the criticism was directed at the business judgment Hasbro exercise in doing so. That certainly was my point -- that having a legal right doesn't always mean that exercising that right is a smart thing. And one has to wonder if in the long run Hasbro wouldn't have been better off cutting the creators of Scrabulous in on the deal. If Hasbro had done so, the iPhone/Facebook app would be far more likely have been a bigger success from the get-go than it otherwise might turn out to be.

superbin said...

Yes, He did a great job and I had a nice a review.