Scrabble Offensive Launched on Facebook

First, members of Facebook fell in love with Scrabulous, an unauthorized, near-identical online copycat of the board game Scrabble; legal issues ensued.

Now, one license-owning company has released an officially sanctioned online version of the game, as the rallying cries of "Save Scrabulous" still sound across Facebook.

In recent weeks, RealNetworks, an Internet software provider, launched Scrabble by Mattel on Facebook as a competitor to Scrabulous, one of the social network's popular applications.

The newest game allows Facebook members outside the United States and Canada — or those who say they live outside the United States and Canada — to play the real Scrabble.

The Scrabulous fracas began in January, when Hasbro — which owns the copyright to the game in the United States and Canada — tried to get the online copycat yanked off line. Scrabulous, which is played much the same way as Scrabble, was developed by brothers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla in Calcutta, India. The game is among the top 10 most downloaded applications on Facebook and can also be played online at the brothers' Web site.

Last year, RealNetworks struck a deal with Mattel, which owns the copyright to Scrabble internationally, to develop online casual games based on several Mattel board games, including Scrabble.

"We've been working with Mattel for a couple of months," RealNetworks spokesman Ryan Luckin said. "We do have a similar deal with Hasbro with online rights for Scrabble so we'll continue to work with them as one of our partners."

Although the new official application could be construed as a Scrabulous replacement, Luckin said that RealNetworks is still in talks with the Agarwalla brothers; he declined to reveal details of those discussions.

"At the end of the day no matter what game is out there with a Scrabble trademark on it, it has to be approved by Mattel and Hasbro," he said. "So no matter what happens we want to work with them ... and also make this work for the Scrabulous guys as well.

RealNetworks, according to Luckin, is not involved with the legal issues that Hasbro and Mattel are currently taking on.

"Scrabulous infringes on Hasbro's trademark," Hasbro spokesman Gary Serba told in a statement in January. "Like all intellectual property owners, we take this type of infringement seriously. We are reviewing a number of options with the parties involved and hope to find an amicable solution. If we cannot come to one quickly, we will be forced to close down the site and its associated distribution points."

Serba refused to comment on reports that Hasbro sent out legal notices to four parties involved in developing and hosting the game. He said he could not say anything more than what was in the official statement.

The Agarwalla brothers also declined to comment.

As of now, both the brothers' site and the Scrabulous application are still available.

As Hasbro fought to shut down Scrabulous, thousands of visitors to Facebook, where the game most famously lives, lobbied to keep it alive and kicking.

Within hours of news of a potential Scrabulous disappearance from the Web, many bloggers and Scrabulous fans registered their disapproval.

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