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Awaiting word from Hasbro

August 01, 2008|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

Scrabulous is back on Facebook, but with a new name and a different look.

The Scrabble knockoff that was pulled from Facebook by its creators over a copyright and trademark dispute was brought back to life late Wednesday. It's now called Wordscraper.

The game play is very similar to Scrabulous, aside from a few tweaks such as round letter tiles instead of square, a new point system and a few different ways of playing.

Hasbro Inc., which owns the North American rights to Scrabble and sued the India-based creators of Scrabulous last week, on Thursday declined to say whether it also considered the new game to infringe on its copyrights.

"Hasbro has an obligation to protect its intellectual property and will act appropriately when necessary," the Pawtucket, R.I., company said in a statement. "We evaluate every situation on a case-by-case basis and have no comment regarding the Scrabulous developers' new application at this time."

Intellectual property attorneys say that although Scrabulous is an obvious knockoff of Scrabble, Wordscraper is not as straightforward.

"I do think the cosmetic changes on the new Wordscraper board and the removal of any links to Scrabble rules or dictionaries help dodge the copyright bullet," said Doris Long, a professor of intellectual property law at the University of Chicago's John Marshall Law School.

Where Wordscraper could run afoul is in a game feature that lets players rearrange the point system on the game's board, she said.

"By giving the power to the end users to control the design of the board, including presumably the ability to change the board design back to the Scrabulous design, Hasbro could still pursue a contributory infringement claim if it wanted to under the 'active inducement' test," Long said. "But to win, Hasbro would have to show that the designers actively encouraged gamers to change the board back to the old Scrabulous. So far, they don't seem to be stepping over this line."

Meanwhile, the official version of Scrabble for Facebook, which Electronic Arts Inc. created for Hasbro, is back online after what Redwood City, Calif.-based EA called a malicious attack that took the game down the same day Scrabulous was disabled by its developers, brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla.

Scrabulous player Stanley Kim, a 34-year-old business development specialist in Palo Alto, said he was "surprisingly saddened" when he learned the game had been taken down.

"I thought it was just a little time-filler," Kim said. "But I really missed the trash-talking with friends. There are some friends I don't get to see that much, but I played Scrabulous with them."

Kim tried Hasbro's authorized Scrabble game. But he had trouble finding people to play with him.

"All of my friends are really upset with Hasbro and Electronic Arts, and they didn't want to have anything to do with the game," Kim said. "And when I tried to fiddle with it, it crashed on me. So I gave up."

Ironically, Scrabulous rekindled a long-forgotten interest in Hasbro's board game for Kim. "I hadn't played Scrabble for like 20 years," he said. "After I started playing Scrabulous, I bought the board game."

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alex.pham@latimes.com

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