Scrabulous Not Fabulous, Say Copyright Holders

Dennis Faas's picture

Toy firms Hasbro and Mattel have launched legal action to shut down the popular Facebook feature Scrabulous. The application allows users of the social networking site Facebook to play Scrabble against one another. Around two million people have used the feature, with almost 600,000 estimated to play it every day.

It's an entirely unofficial game, and the toy companies have described it as a "gross copyright and trademark infringement". Though the feature doesn't specifically use the term 'Scrabble', there is no attempt to keep secret that it's based on the original board game. (Source:

Like most features on Facebook, Scrabulous, developed by two Indian brothers, is run independently. As well as making it available on Facebook, they have a website version at The pair are estimated to make around $25,000 a month selling adverts that appear when people play the game.

Hasbro owns the rights to the game in the US and Canada, with Mattel the rights-holders in the rest of the world. Neither company, nor the Scrabulous producers, are commenting on the legal dispute.

A Facebook group protesting against the lawsuit currently has 21,500 members. They have made several arguments against the toy firms:

  • Scrabulous is no more than free advertising
  • That the companies should consider licensing the game in return for a share of advertising revenues
  • That the companies could easily launch their own official online version of the game. (Source:

Hasbro did in fact sell rights to the game to the software firm Electronic Arts last year. They haven't yet launched an online edition.

Business writer Josh Wittner says game license owners could actually benefit from Internet knock-offs. "[I'd] wait until someone comes up with an excellent implementation of my games and does the hard work of coding and debugging the thing and signing up the masses. Then, once it got to scale, I'd sweep in and take it over." (Source:

For now, dedicated Scrabulous users will have to hope for the game's survival. But, office managers will probably be praying it gets shut down.

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