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Facebook reinvents Scrabulous

August 03, 2008|Alex Pham

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

The Scrabble knockoff that was pulled from Facebook on Tuesday 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.

So, will this satisfy Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to Scrabble and sued the India-based creators of Scrabulous last week? The company won't say, but instead issued this statement:

"Hasbro has an obligation to protect its intellectual property and will act appropriately when necessary. We recently filed a lawsuit against the developers of the infringing Scrabulous application, and we are pleased that the unlawful application has been removed from Facebook. We evaluate every situation on a case-by-case basis and have no comment regarding the Scrabulous developers' new application at this time."

Here's what a copyright and Internet lawyer told us Wednesday, before Wordscraper appeared:

Q: What if the creators of Scrabulous were to change the name to "XYZ Game" and tweak the board and point system for their application. Would that make it legally permissible?

A: People are always free to create their own original games. But if they copy the creative expression of a third party, or they try to mimic the logos or trademarks for a famous brand, they will typically be enjoined. Intellectual property law protects against copying and unfair competition. But people are always allowed to engage in fair competition which would require them to create their own original game. The law requires a minimal level of "original and creative expression" to be entitled to copyright protection.

Meanwhile, the official version of Scrabble for Facebook, which Electronic Arts created for Hasbro, is back online after what EA called a malicious attack that took the game down.

So what do Scrabulous fans think? Stanley Kim, a 34-year-old in Palo Alto, likes the ability to customize the game's layout and scoring system. "You can even replicate the layout of Scrabulous," Kim said. "It's got some nice features. But graphically, it takes getting used to."

Kim turned to Hasbro's authorized Scrabble game. But none of his friends wanted to playwith 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 an long-forgotten interest in Hasbro's board game. "I hadn't played Scrabble for like 20 years," Kim said. "After I started playing Scrabulous, I bought the board game. Now I actually play Scrabble."

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-- Alex Pham

Technology: The business and culture of our digital lives

For more, go to latimes.com/technology

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