Hasbro and Mattel claim that on-line Scrabble is piracy.  I guess a lot of people are playing it on Facebook where it is called Scrabulous but the rules and points are exactly the same.  As many of you know, I play at,  I just checked my stats and I have played 1,641 games over about 4 years.  Both the sites are hosted on servers outside the U.S.  Scrabulous in India and ISC in Romania.  This makes it more difficult/impossible for Hasbro and Mattel to shut them down. 

NoObamaKoolAid is going to love my suggestion to the companies:  get the domain and start making money.  Make the site really fun and easy to use.  Let people play free if they are willing to look at ads but allow them to buy a membership that would allow them to play without being bothered by ads.  Give one player name free and let them buy more if they want.  In short, build a better website where people can play scrabble and people will come.  Why don’t they even try?

I am confident about my site in Romania staying up, but they could force the hand of facebook pretty easily.  Or, license it to facebook for a fee.  Facebook is making plenty of dough.  I’m just saying people want to play scrabble, isn’t that good for the company?  They just have to figure out how to get them to play on their website versus others. 


12 Responses to Scrabble

  1. briand0n0van says:

    It’s fascinating that people have developed a moral economy about games that should or shouldn’t be in the public domain. For me, the intriguing quote was from the director of the National Scrabble Assn. “The idea that Scrabble belongs to a corporation is something that people don’t or are unwilling to accept.” I wonder how many people feel that way about Boggle, Monopoly, Risk, Hungry Hungry Hippos . . . And will people ever feel that way about Pac-Man?

    “I have played 1,641 games over about 4 years.” — LBN
    Is this one of those things that one can confess only after tenure? 🙂

  2. jeremy says:

    I think if Hasbro/Mattel didn’t already have a recognition that this was helping them make money, they’d have shut Scrabulous on Facebook down already. Now they are just looking to optimize.

  3. laurabethnielsen says:

    Well, since I jsut confessed it without tenure, I’ll let you know if it gets me bumped. When I first asked Jeremy to play me, he asked if my stats were somehow a typo — We were qquarrantined for a week when my kid was exposed to pertusis (he did not get it, thanks vaccinations!) but the health department asked us not to leave our house for a week. I probably played 200 games that week alone.

  4. briand0n0van says:

    ” . . just confessed it without tenure . .” I stand corrected. But all things being equal, a confessed Scrabble addiction should score you bonus points. On Bourdieu’s crazy “The Space of Social Positions” chart in Distinction, Scrabble is pretty high on the cultural capital map (directly below “credit card” and directly above “air travel”).

    I’ve been telling people the last 5-6 years that bridge is going to go through a phenomenal comeback, eclipsing the Texas Hold ‘Em frenzy of yore. ACBL tournaments on ESPN. Bridge celebrities. The whole shebang. All of this goes to show that my bridge game is on par with my trend-spotting (i.e. lousy). But if The Bridge Craze happens, remember that you heard it here first. By the way, bridge is also on “The Space of Social Positions” chart (directly below “concerts” and directly above “cocktails”).

  5. laurabethnielsen says:

    I like bridge OK, but bidwhist (also known as black bridge) is way more fun and crazy. And, just to screw me up totally I just found — uh oh. . . .

    I’ll play pretty much anything — boggle, scrabble, cards, mancala, we should have a controlling authority board game night.

  6. dspett says:

    I’m a huge Scrabulous fan, but my sense is that the law is on Hasbro/Mattel’s side here… no? Which isn’t to say it’s right.

  7. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    The problem with intellectual property is that it isn’t property — a tangible thing, like land, a board game in a box, or a CD. And so misappropriating it (a.k.a. stealing it) just doesn’t feel wrong to many people, even if they know it’s illegal. People who would not steal a CD from a record store (remember those?), even if they knew they would not be caught and sanctioned, guiltlessly download digital copies from the net without paying.

    One of the first things you learn in first year contracts class in law school is that the law shapes social expectations. Except with intellectual property law, it clearly hasn’t.

    Here’s a question for you. Do you have a “hard copy” of Scrabble at home? Let’s say your dog eats it, and you have to buy a new one (or in LB’s case, her cat eats it). You go to the store, and see a box with “Scrabbble” written on it — it’s the real thing, sold by Hasbro, and it costs $25. Next to it is a box marked “Scrubble” — it has the exact same contents as the first box, it’s sold by Jeff’s Fly-By-Night Games, and it costs $10. Which do you buy? If the second, do you at least feel guilty? Is there a price differential that would swing your decision?

  8. briand0n0van says:

    But Jeff, my (limited) understanding of copyright law suggests that you can’t copyright an idea. If the board and tiles are identical, then “Scrubble” has a big fat problem, but I don’t think Hasbro can claim a monopoly on the “spell words using lettered tiles for points” game. If I’m representing Srubble, I’d like to call a couple of 19th century game experts to testify about how the “scrabble idea” far predates Hasbro’s copyright. Isn’t the game that Srubble/Scrabulous mimic more of an idea of game-playing rather than a tangible game product?

    “And so misappropriating it (a.k.a. stealing it) just doesn’t feel wrong to many people, even if they know it’s illegal.” I think this widespread feeling about what constitutes digital thievery and what doesn’t, and the extent to which it varies in different groups or across time, is fascinating. Has anyone studied copyright legal consciousness?

    LB: Bidwhist looks very cool . . . it could very well suck me into its vortex if I don’t’ watch out . . .

  9. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    It is true that an idea does not receive copyright protection — only the tangible expression of an idea. Hasbro claims a copyright in both the Scrabble game board and the rules of the game.

    Copyright also extends to derivative works — you can’t avoid infringing merely by starting with “standard” Scrabble and changing letter point values, for instance. This is also why I can’t publish the eighth Harry Potter novel. The issue then becomes whether a work is derivative. I can’t start with Scrabble and make a few changes, but I can invent a new game that features letter tiles arranged crossword style — has anyone else tried Bananagrams? Great game. And I can write a series of books about a young English kid who discovers he has magical powers and goes off to a special school where he has adventures with his friends (See the Charlie Bone books) — but if I get too close to HP, I’m gonna get sued. (BTW, Rowling should lose her suit over the HP Lexicon. It’s protected fair use.)

    Hasbro also has a trademark in the Scrabble name. Trademark law generally acts to prevent confusion of source. Facebook didn’t call its game “Facebook Scrabble” — they knew that they couldn’t get away with that. But they didn’t want users to be in doubt that the game really was the same as Scrabble, so they came up with “Scrabulous,” instead of, say, “Facebook’s Crosswords For Points Game.” Courts will usually view a stunt like that as an attempt to pass your goods off as those of the trademark holder.

    Finally, a product’s appearance (often called its ‘trade dress’) can serve as a trademark to the extent that design identifies the product’s maker. The leading case on trade dress protection is Two Pesos, Inc. v. Taco Cabana.

    The various on-line sites may also infringe on Hasbro’s trade dress for its Scrabble game.

  10. briand0n0van says:

    Jeff – Thanks for the response and cite. I was wondering about the trademark issues involved, too, so thanks for the clear example on that. The concept of “trade dress” makes a lot of sense, and if Scrabulous uses a similar board layout or look I can see how they’re infringing.

    I agree about the HP Lexicon. And isn’t Larry Lessig suing Rowling?

  11. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Larry Lessig is indeed one of the lawyers representing RDR Books, the would-be publisher of the Lexicon, in the suit brought against RDR by Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling.

  12. Games says:


    Originally, it was supposed……

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