Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Our frequently-inactive game may never end

by Ken Houghton

While looking for the Tom-Cruise-defends-Ron-Hubbard's-poker-game-idea video at Gawker, I find that the world of Facebook may be about to get a little less interesting, if that's possible:
Hasbro and Mattel, co-owners of Scrabble, asked Facebook to remove its one good app, "Scrabulous."

It's time for everyone to SuperPoke all the Hasbro and Mattel people—with what is left to your imaginations.

Personally, I'm with Gawker commenter Voxpopuli:
Scrabulous is the only reason I log into facebook daily, instead of weekly, so they'd better not shut it down.

God, I am such a geek.

Tom Adds: Interestingly, a U.S. Copyright Office page linked by one of the Save Scrabulous Facebook groups points out that games receive little protection under the otherwise content-provider-friendly U.S. copyright law:
Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in the development, merchandising, or playing of a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles.

Some material prepared in connection with a game may be subject to copyright if it contains a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, the text matter describing the rules of the game, or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container, may be registrable.

In short, merely knocking off a game's concept or even the full system described by its rules is legal. Mattel's case against the Scrabulous brothers, to the extent they have one, would be for misappropriation of Scrabble IP protected by trademark. Since the Agarwalla brothers don't republish the original rules or any distinctive gameboard artwork on Facebook, any copyright claims would appear to be weak.

Lots of commenters out there are suggesting that a settlement involving licensing of the Scrabble trade dress would be a reasonable outcome. Since nothing would really stop the Agarwallas from just changing the Scrabulous name and moving on, it's probably the profit-maximizing outcome for Hasbro and Mattel, too.

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