Hasbro vs. Scrabulous
For Scrabble fans, there are few bigger dilemmas than how to play a Q without a U. But what about users of Scrabulous, the Scrabble-like Facebook application that has become one of the social networking site’s most popular activities since it was launched this past July? A cease-and-desist order could soon block their triple-word scores indefinitely.
On January 15, players learned that Hasbro — the Pawtucket, Rhode Island, company that owns the US and Canadian rights to Scrabble — had thrown down the legal gauntlet against the application’s creators, Indian brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, claiming copyright infringement.
This has provoked fear among the more than half a million active users of Scrabulous. In Facebook groups with names such as “Please, God, I Have So Little, Don’t Take Scrabulous, Too,” thousands of users post petitions and lament the possibility of losing their favorite time waster. An anonymous artist even penned an R&B ode called “Scrabulous,” which begins with the rap: “Damn thing won’t reload/I can’t tell if I can go.”
Heather Molina, a 30-year-old search-engine marketer from the South End, was not a Scrabble fan before she hopped on the Scrabulous bandwagon in October. Now, owner of a modest 14-33 record, she checks her games as many as five times a day.
“For someone like me who doesn’t even play Scrabble the board game, but love, love, loves Scrabulous, it’s disappointing,” she says. “It was introducing me to the game.”
And for some people, it’s about more than just games. Elisha Boudreau, a 25-year-old trade-desk analyst from Cambridge, says Scrabulous helped seal the deal with her husband, David. Playing as many as five games per day added “a whole new element to our relationship,” fueling both competitive fires and affections.
“It definitely made it much more of a clear decision,” she says. When the couple was married in October, David bought a Scrabble board as a housewarming gift, joining legions of Scrabulous fans who’ve been inspired to put money in Hasbro’s pockets.
Hasbro didn’t respond to a request for comment, but has stated publicly that they “hope to find an amicable solution.” The Agarwalla brothers — who also run a non-Facebook version of the game at scrabulous.com — thanked fans in a statement noting, “It is amazing to see that a small application has touched so many people across the world.”
Twenty-eight-year-old recent Boston City Council candidate Matt O’Malley perhaps said it best on his blog. Taking legal action, he said, “makes [Hasbro] come off like a real blank.”
Which, as we know, gets you no points at all.