Today’s news brings one of the least-startling developments in recent tech history: U.S. and Canadian Facebook users are being denied access to Scrabulous, the extremely popular app that lets people play…well, let’s just say it: It lets them play a thinly-veiled pirated clone of Scrabble. The move was inevitable after Hasbro, which owns the North American rights to Scrabble, licensed Electronic Arts to do an official Scrabble Facebook app and sued the Indian brothers behind Scrabulous. (Facebook is saying that it was Scrabulous’s developers that decided to disable it; for now, the game seems to live on at the Scrabulous site.)
We’ll presumably see a bunch of posts like this one by Don Reisinger on Mashable, siding with Scrabulous fans and the Brothers Agarwalla and caricaturing Hasbro as a company run by clueless geezers who don’t understand the Internet. And it’s tempting for me to join the dogpile-on-the-rabbit. The happiest scenario would have been for Hasbro to acquire or license Scrabulous and legitimize it–or, for that matter, to have rendered it unneccesary before it ever existed by coming out with a Facebook version of Scrabble a long time ago.
But truth to tell, I’m not all that irate at Hasbro, and I’m not all that sad on behalf of Scabulous fans or the Agarwallas. Unless you’re opposed to copyright law, period–or least contend that the Scrabble copyrights and trademarks should have expired already, which I guess is a defensible position, but one at odds with actual law–Hasbro has the right to protect Scrabble. It even has the right to do so in a way that other people believe to be stupid and unreasonable. (I’m a great believer in the idiosyncratic, libertarian notion that laws exist in part to permit people to behave in ways that other folks may believe–correctly, in some cases–to be stupid, unreasonable, and self-defeating.)
If forcing the Agarwallas to shutter the Scrabulous app turns hundreds of thousands of Scrabulous fans into Hasbro haters…well, that’s Hasbro’s call.
As for the Agarwallas, they’re clearly smart, talented guys. Maybe they could have figured out that Facebook-izing Scrabble without Hasbro’s consent might be a bad idea? Is it impudent of me to suggest that they coulda avoided all this by coming up with a compelling online word game that was…original?
(Full disclosure: I’ve played only a couple of games of Scrabble in my life. If this dust-up involved Monobulous or Cluebulous, I’d take this all a little more personally…)