Scrabulous cuts off users as Hasbro spells lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Word-wise game players lost a popular online diversion on Tuesday as the creators of a knock-off of the game Scrabble cut off service in North America in the face of a lawsuit by game maker Hasbro Inc.

A competitor takes part in the World Scrabble Championships in London, November 17, 2005. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Scrabulous, an online version of the classic board game created by two brothers in India, cut off the service for U.S. and Canadian Internet users on Tuesday after Hasbro filed suit in a New York federal court last Thursday.

“Scrabulous is disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice,” Scrabulous notified players of the crossword game inside the popular Facebook social network site.

Scrabulous, introduced on Facebook a year ago, has become a phenomenon, sucking productivity in offices and schools around the globe. The game has become one of Facebook’s dozen most actively used programs, attracting 500,000 daily players. It pits online opponents who compete to come up with clever words using the most exotic letters to score points.

The Hasbro lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Southern District of New York, names the creators of the game, brothers Rajat Agarwalla and Jayant Agarwalla, and RJ Softwares, as defendants.

Hasbro owns the rights to Scrabble in North America, while rival Mattel Inc owns the rights to the popular board game in the rest of the world. Mattel filed a suit against Scrabulous several months ago and is awaiting a decision on its complaint by an Indian court.

Hasbro, the world’s No.2 toy company, had sent a notice last week to Facebook requesting that it remove the application in the United States and Canada as soon as possible.

“We view the Scrabulous application as clear and blatant infringement of our Scrabble intellectual property, and we are pursuing this legal action in accordance with the interests of our shareholders, and the integrity of the Scrabble brand,” Hasbro’s General Counsel Barry Nagler said at the time.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Hasbro filed suit against the Scrabulous creators after launching a legitimate Scrabble version on Facebook earlier this month.

Hasbro had asked Facebook earlier this year to remove the Scrabulous application, but the social network site refused, seeking instead to broker a deal between the parties.

A Facebook spokesman said Scrabulous creators had acted voluntarily to comply with Hasbro’s demands. “We did not take the application down,” David Swain said.

The social network site is encouraging North American members to try out the newly launched official Facebook version of Scrabble created by Electronic Arts for Hasbro.

Hasbro cautioned users of the official game that it remains in a trial stage and may perform slowly ahead of its formal launch next month.

In its statement, Facebook encouraged users to consider trying a new game developed by the Agarwalla brothers called “Wordscraper” that bears clear similarities to the Scrabulous game but had counted only a few dozen users before Tuesday.

The new game pits two players who each have seven tiles but allows them to create their own boards and assign their own point systems to different letters. “Don’t follow rules, make them!” an introduction to the new game advises players.

Additional reporting by Braden Reddall, editing by Ian Geoghegan