Is P-W-N-D a Word? …Hasbro vs. Scrabulous Court Documents

Hasbro, owners of the North American rights to Scrabble, have knocked the popular app – and Scrabble clone – Scrabulous right off of Facebook with a federal lawsuit alleging trademark and copyright infringement.

And while Facebook is not itself a defendant in the suit, the implications for the enormously popular social networking site are a concern. As ABC News reports:

The situation calls into question a host of potential legal landmines for Facebook, which allows programmers to develop and upload all sorts of applications to the social networking site.


"The big issue here is what this implies for Facebook," said Tom Hemnes, a Boston-based attorney who specializes in copyright and trademark law. "If I were betting on this, if the case came to litigation or settlement, [I would bet] that Facebook would lose. They are indirectly associated with the name Scrabble to attract viewers to their site, and that would be trademark infringement."

As Scrabulous disappeared, an official version of the game – developed by EA – launched on Facebook. Not all users were pleased. A "Save Scrabulous" FB group gathered tens of thousands of members and some complained about bugs in the EA version.

GP: However one feels about Scrabulous, a reading of Hasbro, Inc. vs. RJ Softwares does spell out a pretty clear-cut case of copyright infringement.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. bayram says:

    ALPER OTO KİRALAMA Otomobil Kiralama Sektöründe en iyi hizmeti en kaliteli şekilde en uygun koşullarda sunmak amacıyla kurulmuştur.  Oto kiralama sektöründe 11 yıldır hizmet veren firmamız deneyimli bir kadronun bileşeni olan bizler en iyi bildiğimizi en iyi şekilde verebilmek için çalışıyoruz.

    rent a car | araç kiralama | araba kiralama

  2. Anonymous says:

    Web browsers generally don’t read manuscripts drafted in 1938 very well. I’d say the game uses Java or Flash, which is decidedly NOT the rules written in 1938.


    If we had sane copyright laws, everything Scrabble would be in the public domain by now.

  3. CyricPL says:

    Broken record time: The thing that gets me is how people say its a clear-cut case because Scrabulous was obviously the same game as Scrabble, so there was an intellectual property violation.

    Those people are wrong.

    The only thing Hasbro can win on is the trademark of Scrabble. The actual gameplay isn’t protected by copyright, just the specific expression in the Scrabble rulebook.

    This has been an issue as-of-late in the tabletop gaming community. Hasbro subsidary Wizards of the Coast issues a far more restricitive license for third-party 4th Ed. Dungeons & Dragons publishing than for 3rd Ed., and a few third-party publishers have said they won’t be signing the license, but will be publishing rules-compatible material, sans any official branding, other than their own "This symbol means this book is compatible with the latest edition of the world’s most popular fantasy role-playing game, which shall remain nameless."

  4. chadachada(123) says:

    So….then….was Scrabulus a direct ripoff of the game rules? I never played it, I’m not sure quite how close of a clone it was

  5. Anonymous says:

    Game rules and pieces are not copyrightable nor patentable.  A specific writing of the rules are, but the rules themself are not.  This is trademark and trademark alone.

    However, as typical, the "official" version is vastly subpar to the unofficial.

  6. Anonymous says:

    But the one thing people fail to realize is that because Scrabulous is based in India, it’s Mattel NOT Hasbro that has the copyright in that country.

    Back when international rights were being sorted out for Scrabble,  Hasbro ended up getting the rights to publish the game in the US and Canada, and Mattel earn the rights to publish it in the rest of the world.

    So why isn’t Mattel bring up copyright violation charges against the owners of Scrablous?

  7. kurisu7885 (can't log in) says:

    As to the suit, I’m torn. I feel bad for the little guy in this, then again, if Hasbro was indeed damaged by this…


    As to the literla meaning of the article title, if Bling can be in the dictionary, so should be pwned

  8. Anonymous says:

    Unless it’s a photocopy of the board, I don’t understand how you can be in volation of copyright for something that you didn’t get by making a copy.

  9. Anonymous says:

    IANAL, but as I understand it the rules of a game are not copyrightable or trademarkable. The exact written description of the rules might be, however the ‘system’ of the rules is not.

    What Hasbro is actually suing for is the infringement of trademark since Scrabulous sounds so similar to scrabble, and the copyright over the design of the board (which specifically means the pattern and colours).

    If the scrabulous guys were to change the name to Wordulous, and change the colours of the board and the letter tiles, Hasbro probably wouldn’t have a case.

  10. SimonBob says:

    Well, except for Viacom’s $1B suit against Google.

    But yeah, in this case it’s different since Facebook didn’t actively advertise "we’ve got Scrabulous!" at any point.  They played by the letter of the law, though perhaps not the spirit.

    The Mammon Industry

  11. chadachada(123) says:

    But Facebook had no way of knowing, they don’t go out and look at all the thousands of applications to look for copyright infringement, and they would’ve taken it down if asked to.

    People don’t go suing Youtube for copyright infringement, they just make them take the video down. Problem solved, end of story.

  12. It was hosted on Facebook which displays advertising along side the game that generates profit for them.  Like it or not, Hasbro does have a claim here as someone else is making money off something they own and not sharing it with the rightful owners.  The fact that Facebook profits from the popularity of the game could make a reasonable case to add them to the suit as well.  I don’t necessarily agree with this as I don’t think the people playing Scrabulous would go out and buy a copy of the actual game if it were made unavailable but this is Hasbro’s right to defend.

  13. thefremen says:

     It dilutes the brand and there is a high probability that EA is somehow making money off of the new scrabble game.

  14. Fallenone says:

    I don’t understand why it is such a big deal if it isn’t being sold. It wasn’t making a profit, was it? So, I don’t understand how it was hurting Hasbro. If I played that on Facebook, but wanted to play with my friends face to face, I’d have to buy the Scrabble boardgame. SO, how did it hurt them?

  15. tollwutig says:

    Actually knowing EA they probably have an exclusive license to all video game versions of Scrabble.   Hasbro would have had to break such a contract with EA to license Scrabulous as an official version. 

    Scrabuloua from what I can see was way to close, to actual Scrabble which is copy protected and patented.  A company must protect it’s own copywrites and patents in court, as no government agency has the authority to enforce them.  Thus Hasbro has every right to pursue legal action.

    If the company was making money off of advertising dollars then they are causing damages to Hasbro financially, as their licensed version of the game by EA would be paying royalties to Hasbro. 

    Here is how it works.  EA gets a license to produce a video game version of Scrabble from Hasbro.  Hasbro receives a royalty fee from every dollar EA earns from the video game versions.   Scrabulous gets published on Facebook and becomes popular drawing in advertising dollars.  The EA web version suffers reducing it’s cash flow, and in corallary reduces the amount of Royalties Hasbro receives from EA.   Scrabulous is close enough to Scrabble and popular enough to cause significant revenue loss to Hasbro.  EA is does not own the copywrite so they are unable to take any action other than to report to Hasbro.   Hasbro the owner of the copywrite would then request that the owners of Scrabulous take down their application and voluntarily pay past due royalties to Hasbro off of thier profits.   Naturally the makers of Scrabulous refuse and thus Hasbro now has a court case against them.


  16. Dark Sovereign says:

    I detect a hint of the "use it or lose" in this lawsuit. You can’t really have a copyright that is never defended.

  17. Anonymous says:

    As an avid Scrabulous player, I was pretty torn when I saw the litigation.  In my non-legal expertise, Hasbro had a right to shut down Scrabulous, but the amount of ill will they garnered by shutting down such a popular app definitely didn’t help their cause.  Many people who played Scrabulous admitted to buying the physical board game after rediscovering how much fun it was. 

    Granted, if there’s money to be had, people want in.  Hasbro probably should have approached Scrabulous on the side, let them know that there was legal justification to shut them down and then talked about particulars and maybe use the Scrabulous app with official licensing, which, from my understanding, was far superior to the EA one and if anything, had a large installed user base.

    But fevered egos being what they are, I’m sure it was just easier to wave a big stick and leave the Scrabulous developers with nothing.


  18. chadachada(123) says:

    There’s another thing I don’t get. I see tons of apps that rip off of Starcraft, Mario, WoW, Legend of Zelda, any of those games. Why haven’t there been huge outcries and lawsuits over that?

  19. Anonymous says:

    I heard Facebook is going to try a new original idea, the “Superb Malip Cousins”. They kick hermit crab shells at owls.

  20. Victor Prime says:

    It seems clear cut to me: The game is a pretty direct copy, they made money off this through ads, that cut into Hasbro’s profits vis-a-vis Scrabble, Hasbro has every right to shut them down.

    Could it have been handled better?  Probably.  Does that change this?  No.

    I know it’s in vogue to side with anyone "small" in a case like this, but being small doesn’t make you right, or above the law.  They chose to rather directly rip off a very well-known brand.  They suffer the consequences.

  21. Aliasalpha says:

    The difference between not selling & not making money is obviously not as small as some think. I saw this a while back & wondered how in the hell they hadn’t been sued for it, seemed pretty obviously a ripoff.

  22. sortableturnip says:

    If it’s true that they were making money off the app, then they should be ashamed of themselves.  However, if they were not making money off of it, I don’t see what the dig deal is, other than to force Facebook into paying for a license to us "the official version"


  23. Chuma ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I was falling on the side of the Scrabbulous makers until I read that they were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on advertising revenue from the application.  It’s frustrating that such a good app is going to be defunct for some at least, but that’s what happens when corporations are deprived of money.

  24. Jervas says:

    Also the popularity was probably a factor.  I am not a lawyer, but my understanding was that in order to win the suit they have to prove damage.  I’d guess that no other scrabble clone was a close enough copy and popular enough to bother with a lawsuit.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm… methinks the similarities were a little too close, both to the look of the board game, and to the release of their own game.

    Hasbro have certainly turned a blind eye to Scrabble-esque clones in the past, I’ve seen a few knocking around over the years, but the whole format of Scrabble is copyrighted and they have a right to protect it.

    I think this was possibly more of a case of bad timing by Facebook than vindictiveness by Hasbro, though, what with having been recently acquired by Hornby along with Airfix, iirc, this may be a new company policy, if it were down to Hasbro, I doubt they would take matters further now that they have what they want.

Comments are closed.