End of Scrabulous?

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I wonder what took Hasbro so long – they are going to launch an official version of Scrabble on Facebook (the beta version is available already) later this month. They have also made available a version on, teaming up Electronic Arts (not accessible from outside the US).

What happens to Scrabulous (developed by Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla from Kolkata), the hugely popular app developed for Facebook? The legal implications and who should benefit from what raises several interesting issues. Let’s face it – Scrabulous is an unlicensed version of Scrabble. The brand Scrabulous could not have been created without Scrabble. If it were an offline version or if someone copied as book, they would have been taken down by now. Obviously, Hasbro is not happy about it. And its not just a question of copyright. Apparently, the Scrabulous guys were making more than US$ 25,000 a month on advertising revenues in January. Now, Hasbro wants a share of this pie.

Wouldn’t it be better for Hasbro to simply buy out Scrabulous? Obviously, the Aggarwala brothers are talking. The situation is complicated with the rights to Scrabble being owned by several parties. According to New York Times, Hasbro owns the rights in North America and Mattel in the rest of the world. RealNetworks of Seattle has signed deals with both companies for electronic rights, but Electronic Arts of Redwood City, Calif., also has a deal with Hasbro.Phew.

And according to TechCrunch, Hasbro is trying to get Scrabulous to sell itself for a song to Electronic Arts, or else shut down completely by the end of the day today. Scrabulous has been trying to shop itself to other buyers as well, but its legal liability is scaring away any potential white knights. Unless it gets some sort of reprieve or agrees to sell to Electronic Arts, Scrabulous will be no more, despite the more than 46,000 Facebook members who have joined the “Save Scrabulous” group.

To the credit of the Agarwalla brothers they took a mildly popular game, available for a price online and made it free. And took advantage of social networking. From a board game played between a couple of blokes it is now accessible to millions of users online. While they should get their price for it, the Save Scrabulous group can’t do much about the owners of Scrabble staking their claim.

Interesting how brands are created and destroyed in the virtual world, in no time. Who knows, Scrabulous as a brand may still survive, but not on Facebook?

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