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e-Scrabble gets Cease and Desist Order from Hasbro 774

Posted by timothy
from the one-of-my-favorite-sites dept.
Matthew Dull writes "Home-brewed e-Scrabble.com recently received a cease-and-desist order from Hasbro Inc., owners of the famous board game Scrabble. E-scrabble, home to over 100,000 active players, has been hosting up online versions of the game to happily addicted players for over a year now (maybe more), and only now does Hasbro come forth with a lawsuit. The creator of the site, known only as Jared, has posted the letter he received from Hasbro's lawyers. However common it may be, it always seems a tragedy when a big corporation stomps its heavy foot on a fledgling but very successful piece of web software that is close to many people's heart." (It's also the best online Scrabble game I've seen; Hasbro should pay Jared, not sue him.)
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e-Scrabble gets Cease and Desist Order from Hasbro

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  • y'know (Score:5, Funny)

    by heptapod (243146) <heptapod@gmail.com> on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:53PM (#12007153) Journal
    There's a great way to enforce a cease-and-desist order. Slashdot the site.
    • Re:y'know (Score:5, Funny)

      by l810c (551591) * on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:58PM (#12007214)
      Yea, I clicked the link and all I got what a blank page with the word "Quijibo" on it.
    • Re:y'know (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dnoyeb (547705) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:12AM (#12008365) Homepage Journal
      Let me say this.

      My wife loves scrabble and we have played every version hasbro has released on CD. ABSOLUTELY ABYSMAL. Hasbro has managed to get an ok game but the network play is FUCKING ABSOLUTELY HORRENDUS. And thats putting it midly.

      So eventually we found MS games website has scrabble for about a year. Then it went away. Then some other knock off site had it for another year. Then it went away. I think Hasbro released another crap CD. Then after about 2-3 years without online play, we found this one site which I will not mention for obvious reasons. She plays there happily, and I dont have to hear all her complaints about lag, and people disconnecting but not knowing for 15 minutes...

      I guess if you can only make shit computer products, just sue anyone that manages to make a quality one.

      I bet you each of these free scrabble sites Hasbro will shut down, will have created a game of 10x the quality of the Hasbro version, and will have done it for the the same cheap ass price Hasbro is probably paying, + love.

      And the White House will continue to push its idea that Greed is what makes America innovative and strong...
      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by symbolic (11752) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:53AM (#12008659)

        "Scrabble" does belong to Hasbro. That's just the way it is. However, although Hasbro has the copyright and trademark, I think it would have been a more informed choice to make a similar type of game with a different name, and perhaps a slightly different style of gameplay (slightly). However, the truly sad part is the distinct possiblity that someone may actually have a patent on "a style of gameplay whereby users take turns forming words with game pieces, each piece having a single letter."
        • by Finkbug (789750) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @09:59AM (#12011093)
          Hasbro does not own worldwide Scrabble rights. Competitor Mattel is the owner in many countries, most notably England.

          There are many free online not-quite-Scrabble games. Just far enough off the copyright infringement to mostly avoid the lawyers. There are two problems.

          There are quite a few official Scrabble dictionaries. US 2nd, US 3rd (expurgated), US 3rd tournament (no defs, unexpurgated), and goes on from there. There are words valid in UK play (Chambers and otherwise) but not US and vice versa. There are combined dictionaries. A poor dictionary **BREAKS** a word game. Most online word games have truly lousy free or licensed dictionaries. For a competent player it's infuriating playing "cete", "ai", or "qat" and having the word bounce. Some free games like the (Boggle-like) Tangleword(1) at www.playsite.com have solid dictionaries.

          More subtle is the balance of the Scrabble board itself, which must be messed with to pass legal muster. Millions of human and computer hours have been spent analyzing ideal play on that board and with Scrabble's letter scores and distribution. It's akin to changing the movement of the rook or the spacing of bases on the diamond. Might get a good game as a result but it'll sure play differently.

          (1) Tangleword's round timer requires Microsoft Java. The game is otherwise playable with proper Java. Maybe if a zillion /. appear and complain it'll be rewritten. (Won't, but a fantatic Tangleworder can dream.)
      • Re:y'know (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tacocat (527354) <tallison1@NOspam.twmi.rr.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:56AM (#12010279)
        My wife loves scrabble and we have played every version hasbro has released on CD. ABSOLUTELY ABYSMAL. Hasbro has managed to get an ok game but the network play is FUCKING ABSOLUTELY HORRENDUS. And thats putting it midly.

        I'm surprised that your wife plays Scrabble only on-line. Has she ever tried it as a board game? It's actually pretty good. My wife and I play it from time to time and it's very social. More so than online gaming certainly.

        I think Hasbro has done the typical thing here. I also think they've made the same mistake. But most people won't care.

        Would this have been reasonable: require escrabble to provide a banner ad (top) on each page for hasbro products or hasbro scrabble.

        There doesn't seem to be much symbiosis in corporations these days. At least not in American markets.

      • by reallocate (142797) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @08:48AM (#12010648)
        Your opinion of the quality of Hasbro CD's is irrelevant and doesn't have a thing to do with their right to sue.

        Your silly notion that people ripping off Hasbro are doing it for love is also irrelevant. What they do counts, not why they do it.

        Ditto your notion that seeking profit = greed.

        Anyone who copies a product like Scrabble but expects not to be sued is naive beyond imagination. Get a clue. Copying someone else's business is just about the best way to be sued.

        Sorry if you don't like all this, but most people who make your arguments just want free stuff. The others actually, and incorrectly, believe people operate out of love and altruism.
    • Kurnik (Score:5, Interesting)

      by KiloByte (825081) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:50AM (#12009612)
      Well... try to give kurnik.{org,pl} [kurnik.org] a slashdotting.

      This site started from exactly the same thing this article is about. Marek Futrega (my roommate at the time) made an implementation of Scrabble in Java.

      Soon, he received a cease-and-desist letter from Cronix (basically Hasbro Poland). What he did, was renaming the game from "Szkrable" to "Literaxx" and changing the copyrighted board to a similar version. This made him compliant with both trademark and copyright laws.

      Now, his site is the biggest Central European (or perhaps even European) gaming site with a crapload of other games in 11 languages.

      The cease-and-desist in Polish can be found close to the bottom of "Old news".
  • Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:54PM (#12007159)
    Okay, so... they took the trademarked name and one would assume copyrighted game design that hasbro sells in stores and... gave away without permission a video game that replicated it perfectly. ...

    You know there's a lot of reasons I'm not crazy about Hasbro but I really just can't see anything unreasonable about this. If there's anything copyright laws were meant to prevent it's exactly this.

    That said Hasbro is really foolish to not just buy these people outright, illegal or no. Literati just isn't as good as real scrabble and I don't like hanging around yahoo.com. I bet I'm not the only one who feels this way.
    • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by urbaer (778997) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:07PM (#12007302)
      You know there's a lot of reasons I'm not crazy about Hasbro but I really just can't see anything unreasonable about this.

      Hmmm.... I think maybe the following:
      Because the e-Scrabble URL is of no use to you, it should be transferred to Hasbro. We also demand that you provide us with information concerning the extent of your uses of any elements of the SCRABBLE game, as well as information regarding the distribution of your electronic Scrabble game to enable us to assess more precisely the extent of the damage done.

      Isn't this just Hasbro saying "we'll take the game and the site from you and run it ourselves... then possibly take any money you made from it in the last year"? Hasbro clearly isn't interested in a purchase...
      • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Funny)

        by stratjakt (596332) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:26PM (#12007485) Journal
        It's Hasbro's game, and Hasbro's money, and I bet many of those 100,000 players thought (as in were deliberately tricked into believing) they were playing official Scrabble.

        Fuck Jared and his Subway subs. He'll always be fat on the inside.
      • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pchan- (118053)
        Hasbro clearly isn't interested in a purchase...

        Not quite so clearly. One common strategy often played by big companies when they want to purchase someone (especially when it's done in a hostile fashion), is to sue them beyond their means to defend themselves, and then promise to call off their lawyers if they sell out at the lowball offer price. I've worked for a company that has had this done to them. It should be called extortion, but is perfectly legal. Imagine being the guy getting a lawsuit agai
      • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by That's Unpossible! (722232) * on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:35PM (#12008036)
        Isn't this just Hasbro saying "we'll take the game and the site from you and run it ourselves... then possibly take any money you made from it in the last year"?

        Yeah, and what exactly is unreasonable about this? Hasbro owns the game this site is trying to replicate and profit from. Why should this site be able to make money off of Hasbro's game? Would you think it is OK for a site to replicate Half-Life 2 in Java and make money off it?
        • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Interesting)

          by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:26AM (#12008463) Journal
          Would you think it is OK for a site to replicate Half-Life 2 in Java and make money off it?
          Yes, it would, if the engine was written from scratch, and all data files are also clean re-make. After all, Carmack doesn't have anything against FreeDoom, which is exactly that kind of project.

          I can understand how you can own a specific implementation of a game (that is, its code, binaries, and data files), but should you be able to own game concept and rules? I don't think so.

        • by jeti (105266) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:32AM (#12009542) Homepage
          The unreasonable part is that Scrabble was developed in the 1920s and was first published in 1948. That's over 50 years ago. It has become a part of the western cultures, and should be in the public domain.

          Granting copyright protection to the game does no longer help to "advance the progress of science and the useful arts to benefit the public".
          • by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @04:16AM (#12009697) Journal
            Even so, "Scrabble" is a trademark of Hasbro. As long as they're willing to defend that trademark, it's theirs. And in fact they _have_ to defend it or lose it. That's in fact the _only_ way for a trademark to be lost: they don't have a time limit.

            You know, just like "IBM" is a trademark of International Business Machines, or "Pepsi" is the trademark of Pepsico. You can't just name your new company or your new product "IBM", even though they first used it more than 100 years ago. And you can't just name your own drinks "Pepsi".

            So, sorry if I don't feel much sympathy for that site. They just took someone else's property and tried to make a buck out of it. It's no different than trying to make a buck off the Coca-Cola trademark by writing that on your own soft drinks cans.

            I see no little guy unfairly oppressed by a big corporation. The little guy is the thief here, and the big corporation is just defending its lawful property.

            And how does copying someone else's game help advance the progress of science and useful arts? I've said it before, but advance and progress comes from researching and creating _new_ stuff, not from a million monkeys copying someone else's work.

            They have a problem with big bad Hasbro not letting them make a buck off the game Hasbro invented, and the trademark Hasbro owns? How about sitting down and inventing their _own_ game, then? Progress and advance are that-a-way.
      • Re:Uhhh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xptical.gmail@com> on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:44PM (#12008121) Homepage
        They'll be lucky if that's all that happens to them. Like the grandparent said; this is why we have copyright law.

        They knew they were gonna get sued from the beginning. You cannot just take someone's idea and drop it verbatum onto the internet and expect to survive.

        If they were making money off it, they will face punative damages.

        All they needed to do was to name their project something else and tweak the board and the rules slightly. Word of mouth would have still given them a good customer base.

        K-Atlantik, FreeCiv, and BZFlag are excellent examples of this.

        No, they copied verbatum and then used a well-known name to drive their site. They'll be lucky if all they have to do is declare bankruptcy and turn over all assets to Hasbro.
        • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Interesting)

          by brlancer (666140) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:12AM (#12009461) Homepage Journal
          They'll be lucky if that's all that happens to them. Like the grandparent said; this is why we have copyright law.
          They knew they were gonna get sued from the beginning. You cannot just take someone's idea and drop it verbatum onto the internet and expect to survive.

          Actually, they can. Why? Ideas are an issue of patent law, not copyrights. Hasbro has a copyright on the "game board" and trademark of the name "Scrabble", but they don't own the idea. All the examples you provide are examples of an identical idea.

          Should he stop selling/providing the game "as is"; yes, because he has not paid Hasbro to license it. Should he turn over profits; yes, though I think grabbing all revenue ignores the fact that he made a superior product irrespective to Hasbro's trademarks. Should he re-write the game to avoid Hasbro's copyright and trademark; yes, most people would still play the game and Hasbro might take the clue to produce a better product.

          I wonder how much "confusion" existed over who was offering the game. Unless he was being deliberately deceptive (his site is down so I can't see it), I would presume a "normal person" would recognize this wasn't being presented by Hasbro.

          And forget transfering the domain name; I think he should keep it if only to publicize the problems he's encountered here. That would be legitimate use.

      • Re:Uhhh (Score:4, Informative)

        by stonecypher (118140) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .rehpycenots.> on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:49PM (#12008169) Homepage Journal
        Isn't this just Hasbro saying "we'll take the game and the site from you and run it ourselves...

        No, it isn't. They're not interested in taking any of his work. What they're doing is saying "Scrabble is ours. Cut it out and quit selling our things. And by the way, since there's no way for you to sell scrabble, and since you've been breaking the law taking our trademarks, give up the name to us."

        Trademark law supports this. Copyright law supports this. Patent law supports this.

        then possibly take any money you made from it in the last year

        1) they're not taking the money.
        2) Scrabble belongs to them. Anyone selling scrabble is taking their money. If I get the coke formula and sell coke, the money belongs to Coca Cola. What part this is hard to understand? You're not allowed to just copy other people's things and sell them. Period. Even when it's a big company. It's that simple.
        • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:59PM (#12008252)
          If I get the coke formula and sell coke, the money belongs to Coca Cola.

          Not so. The formula for Coke is a trade secret, not a patent or a copyright. If the formula ever leaked out, it would obviously be a secret no longer. There would be nothing (legally) that Coca Cola could do to you unless you were dumb enough to sell your drink under one of their trademarked names.

        • Re:Uhhh (Score:4, Interesting)

          by roju (193642) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @01:43AM (#12008965)
          I saw Scrabble for sale at a games store not too long ago. Those bastards.

          Really, I agree that I don't find anything particularly suprising or outrageous about this. But you are totally allowed to just copy other people's things and sell 'em. Witness the history of the modern desktop computer [laborlawtalk.com]. In fact, the so-called American way is pretty much based on that fact. Otherwise every new product would be a monopoly and the system would break down pretty fast.
    • Re:Uhhh (Score:4, Informative)

      by cgreuter (82182) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:16PM (#12007385)

      kay, so... they took the trademarked name and one would assume copyrighted game design [...]

      Games are not copyrightable. The artwork is, yes, as is the text of the rules and the design of the pieces, and the name is trademark but the game itself has no IP protection.

      You know there's a lot of reasons I'm not crazy about Hasbro but I really just can't see anything unreasonable about this.

      I can see Hasbro requesting that he stop using their trademark and stop distributing copies of their artwork (as the letter alleges they were doing) but they're demanding he dismantle the site. That may just be lawyering, but my paranoid little brain interprets this as an attempt to shut down a potential competitor.

      That, or generic corporate bullying.

      • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by stonecypher (118140) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .rehpycenots.> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:14AM (#12008381) Homepage Journal
        Games are not copyrightable. The artwork is, yes, as is the text of the rules and the design of the pieces, and the name is trademark but the game itself has no IP protection.

        Luckily, nobody made that stipulation but you. Yes, the game materials are copyrightable. Yes, they are copywritten. Yes, Jared stole them. Outright. Don't try to make some case for the game mechanics; you're pretending Jared didn't do something he did.

        Besides, this bit that games aren't copyrightable is a popular misunderstanding; it's because game mechanics are patented. When you're busdy referring me to all these posts where people say that they can't be patented either, please realize that these are the same people which think warezing is legal if you stick a text file into an archive claiming to be a library and making some admonition about erasing things after a day. It's relatively easy to turn up the court case in which Tetris was taken away from Atari neé Tengen by Nintendo because Tengen bought the patent rights to the game mechanics from Robert Stein ne&eacute Mirrorsoft, who didn't actually own them, whereas Nintendo bought them from Elorg, who hadd purchased them legally from Bulletproof Software neé Spectrum Holobyte, and then had to go to court with Tengen and Elorg.

        Now, let's be clear. They went to court on exactly the same laws you're currently claiming don't exist. Against a company in another country. In the middle of a media circus established by the owner of the companies trying to steal Tetris. A circus so big, in fact, that the Communist Party became involved.

        And they still lost.

        You know why? Because, despite your beliefs, games can be patented, and because game patents are regularly enforced. Almost every major board game has been extensively defended in this fashion, especially Monopoly, Battleship and The Game of Life, but more recently in the electronic world Tetris, Archon, Bandit Kings of Ancient China and so forth.

        I can see Hasbro requesting that he stop using their trademark and stop distributing copies of their artwork (as the letter alleges they were doing) but they're demanding he dismantle the site.

        Oh, so what you'd rather is that he take down all their current stolen stuff, but continue to steal their trademark?

        but my paranoid little brain interprets this as an attempt to shut down a potential competitor.

        Yes, they're trying to shut down an illegal competitor, the same way that Levi's does with knockoffs in china, the same way we all bitch that record companies should be doing with pirate CDs instead of MP3s.

        This is ridiculous. A competitor would be if he made a different game and they were trying to shut that down. He's a thief, pure and simple. He copied their design wholesale.

        Yes, they're trying to shut a thief down, and there's just nothing wrong with that.

        That, or generic corporate bullying.

        Blinded by dogma much?
        • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by NormalVisual (565491) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @01:41AM (#12008956)
          Perhaps games can be patented, but depending on the type of patent, it would only be good for either 14 or 20 years, so the patent would had to have been granted no later than 1985 for it to matter in this case. Scrabble and its clones have been around for almost 60 years now, so it seems that even if Hasbro had applied for a patent in the mid 80's or later, they'd have an uphill battle getting a defensible patent granted since the game had already been around for so long.

          This is an action strictly regarding copyright and trademark, and as long as any copyrighted text/artwork, the name "Scrabble", and any other Hasbro trademarks are removed from the site, I don't see a whole lot that Hasbro can do about it.
          • Re:Uhhh (Score:4, Informative)

            by stonecypher (118140) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .rehpycenots.> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:58AM (#12009403) Homepage Journal
            You're right, and I probably should have been clear that I didn't mean to imply that Hasbro was acting on patent law. In another post in another thread I pointed that out explicitly and I forgot to here.

            The reason I discussed patent law was to try to clear up what I see as misapprehensions about whether a game is protectable at all. The reason I contrasted it to copyright law, especially in the case of Monopoly where the distinction can be made so clear, was to display multiple routes of protection and how the different ones applied in different situations, because I believe that a lot of the misapprehensions about what may and may not be done come from an incomplete understanding of the phrase "game mechanics may not be copywritten" as in contrast to patent rather than protected in any way.

            You are quite correct: Hasbro is only protecting their content material, not the fundamental nature of the game. Nonetheless, I stand by my evaluation: they're being very kind, and the original poster and the editor which accepted the story see things in a very different light than I do.
    • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stratjakt (596332) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:18PM (#12007410) Journal
      It's a trademark issue, not copyright. There are tons of other online scrabble clones. I know, because my mother plays them obsessively.

      You *have* to take action to enforce trademarks, or lose them. The "Scrabble" name is worth something to Hasbro. The game could have been nothing like real Scrabble, and they'd still probably have to send out a notice, just in case.

      This is like the much-publicized case where Disney sent a C&D to some Florida pre-school for painting Mickey, Donald et al, on their walls. It was a big PR stinkfest, and Hanna Barbera stepped in and gave them permission to use their characters. It made Disney look like a bunch of heartless bastards, and HB look like saviors.

      Now, we all know Disney does some evil shit, but in this case, they really didn't have a choice in the matter. Disney can't afford to lose the trademarks they have on Mickey and company.
    • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

      That said Hasbro is really foolish to not just buy these people outright, illegal or no.

      Why? Wouldn't that only encourage other programmers to steal Hasbro's designs and artwork, reproduce them on a site, and then wait to profit from a Hasbro buyout?

      The guy should be paying Hasbro, not the other way around.
  • by hsmith (818216) on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:54PM (#12007166)
    e-scrabble is sort of RETARDED. It would be like starting up a new websoftware company called eMicrosoft. OO i wonder who would sue me then!

    It may be a good piece of software and i doubt they could sue for the game idea. Rename it possibly?
  • by Dimwit (36756) * on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:54PM (#12007172)
    When I started up www.e-slashdot.org, over 100,00 people came and read my geek news. Then some lawyers from some Open Source Lab place got all pissy and sent me a letter. Once more a large corporation slams the little guy!

    I was posting good news from independent sources. Heck, they should have paid me!
  • by attobyte (20206) on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:56PM (#12007187)
    Well transfer the name to me and I will host it until Hasbro sues me. Then I will grant them thier wish but only after I transfer it to one of the other 100,000 players. I think we should be able to do this for at least a couple of years. :)
    • by eln (21727)
      Since the URL is clearly trademark infringement, the courts would almost certainly compel the registrar to transfer the domain to Hasbro, regardless of who the current owner is.
  • Pay him? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RedWizzard (192002) on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:56PM (#12007188)
    Timothy wrote:
    It's also the best online scrabble game I've seen; Hasbro should pay Jared, not sue him.
    Why would Hasbro pay Jared? What are they getting out of it exactly?
  • Copyrightable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:56PM (#12007191) Homepage Journal

    I am not a lawyer, but I have followed the similar Tetris [wikipedia.org] issue.

    Change the name from e-scrabble to something else, and the trademark claim is pretty much out the window. True, the rule sheet packaged with the game is copyrighted, but given Copyright Office publication FL108 [copyright.gov], I'm not so positive that copyright applies to the elements of a game itself.

  • by episodic (791532) on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:56PM (#12007192) Homepage Journal
    I mean you can't argue that scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro. You can't argue that it is abandonware (last time I checked scrabble is still sold in stores).

    It is clear that Hasbro has every right to ask him to cease and desist - and should not have to pay him a thing, it is THEIR product unequivocally.

    • Legally, even if it WAS abandonware, it would still be infringement.

      Abandonware is just a term us Infringers use to make our piracy seem less nasty. ^_^
  • Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Canadian_Daemon (642176) on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:57PM (#12007199)
    Wow! After reading that letter, it seems like they want to take over from him. They demand the site and the code to it.
    Oh, and obligatory
    1. Let fan make game
    2 Sue fan and steal game
    3. ??? ( can be omitted)
    4. Profit
    • Re:Wow (Score:3, Informative)

      by Maradine (194191) *
      1. Let fan make game

      Um, I hate to side with the machine here, but Hasbro made the game.

      If a third-party made a web-based Warhammer clone called e-Warhammer, Games Workshop would sue.

      If a third-party made a web-based Axis and Allies clone called e-Axis and Allies, Avalon Hill would sue.

      Frankly, so would I.

      M

  • by haluness (219661) on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:58PM (#12007220)
    http://www.isc.ro/ [www.isc.ro] is an alternative site. You can't play on the website itself but it has Java clients which you can download and then connect to the isc.ro server.

    It's definitely reduced my sleeping hours!
  • Easy fix... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Nimrangul (599578) on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:59PM (#12007222) Journal
    Change the name to Elb-Barcs and rearrange the board, maybe make it a little bigger, just some minor touches to it to make sure it doesn't look "scrabbly".

    Then you're free to go, just remember to yell Elb Barcs when you win and not Scrabble.

  • Just curious -- would a name change do the trick?

    It's ridiculous that Hasbro is trying to take down this little guy running this little site. After all, have they not heard of "Yahoo" and "Yahoo Games"? Literati [yahoo.com] is a game that you can play on Yahoo! Games, and everyone knows and thinks of it as Scrabble. What a bunch of hooey.

  • Guess what (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stratjakt (596332) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:01PM (#12007250) Journal
    Scrabble is a trademark. Everyone knows that.

    They could have called it anything else, and still had the same game with the same rules, and not had a problem.

    By calling the site Scrabble.com they were asking for it.

    They could have called it WordFun.com, or something else. But then, without the scrabble name, they'd have a hard time getting hits and membership, (and ad revenue) without piggybacking on Hasbro's success, wouldn't they?

    My heart is not bleeding.
  • by YukiKotetsu (765119) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:02PM (#12007257)
    I haven't been there, nor have I played e-scrabble, but is this guy Jared paying for the server, bandwidth, whatever else without making a dime in return? Is there some sort of advertising that is on there to recoup his costs?

    How long until this guy has a bunch of people addicted, asks for a few dollars, then starts making money off of Hasbro's game? Why can't I start e-monopoly, e-settler's of catan, or e-crack addicted whore quest and then the company should "pay me" because I did such a job without getting their approval?

    Jared should pay Hasbro.
  • From the article:
    ... association with your commercial activities.

    We also demand that you provide us with information concerning the extent of your uses of any elements of the SCRABBLE game, as well as information regarding the distribution of your electronic Scrabble game to enable us to assess more precisely the extent of the damage done.

    Ummm. He doesn't charge people anything and the "distribution" is limited to people coming to his website. Heck, the site even has a disclaimer at the bottom. Really, is this any different than hosting a big 24/7 get together in some public park where people can come play Scrabble all they want?

  • Is ISC next? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:07PM (#12007298) Journal
    What about Internet Scrabble Club [www.isc.ro]? Are they safe because they're outside the US, licensed, or are they next?
  • Trademarks (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Supertroll (210165) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:09PM (#12007320) Homepage
    Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't trademark holders required to defend their trademarks or risk losing them? (like what happened with "Aspirin")
  • Salvage (Score:3, Informative)

    by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:09PM (#12007325) Homepage
    Frankly, Hasbro is basically right with regards to the name -- it might be possible to show that the name is generic, but it'd be difficult and seems somewhat unlikely.

    They're also probably right with regards to the game board and the description of the rules.

    However, game rules -- i.e. the system by which a game is played -- are not copyrightable. They're patentable, but any patent on scrabble probably expired long ago. Only a particular written expression of game rules are. And even the expressions aren't particularly strong, given the merger doctrine.

    It might be a good idea to come up with a completely new board graphic that still functionally was the same, and to rewrite the rules from scratch, making sure that they didn't match the language in the official rules, and to come up with a completely unrelated name. Just as scrabble is a made up word, just make up a totally new word.

    Of course, past infringements may still be litigable, but there's nothing to be done about them other than to a) wait out the statute of limitations, or b) get Hasbro to agree not to sue.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:17PM (#12007397)
    Yes, Hasbro holds a copyright in the design and layout of the Scrabble board, but they DO NOT hold copyright in the rules, no matter what they say.

    Copyright only protects expression. And functional elements of expression are not protected by copyright. This is why things like ingredients are not copyrightable, because they only serve to tell you how to do something.

    The Copyright Office (See http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html) makes it clear that "Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in the development, merchandising, or playing of a game." Accordingly, game rules generally are not copyrightable.

    Granted, Hasbro may own copyright in the rules as written. But this copyright is thin, essentially only precluding exact reproduction. Even then, the descriptions of the steps to play the game are functional, and not protected. There is nothing they can do to prevent another from redescribing the steps in their own words and publishing that.

    Too bad this guy is out of luck on the trademark stuff....
  • Oh please... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella (173770) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:20PM (#12007431) Homepage
    ...usually I'm against it when it comes to big corp crushing the little guy - but e-scrabble? Seriously, "Company who has spent years building up a brand name and mindhare of a game sending C&D to cheap ripoff" sounds more like it.

    Hell, if you even try using that similar a *name*, they get you. Look at Lindows. From what I can gather they made a clone which was deliberately using their trademark. How much more clear cut can it get? Sorry, find your own name and image. This one is fully justified.

    Kjella
    • Very bad example (Score:4, Informative)

      by lakeland (218447) <lakeland@acm.org> on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:54PM (#12007699) Homepage
      Lindows was found to be NOT infringing trademark. So, Microsoft sued them in Sweeden, on the grounds that Sweedish users could go to the site too. Microsoft lost, again. Then Microsoft sued them in Germany, over the same issue, and lost, again. Next microsoft sued them in the Netherlands and didn't even bother telling them about it, so they didn't turn up to the court and Microsoft won by default (apparently posting a notice in the local paper is sufficient in the Netherlands). Almost certainly it would be overturned on appeal.

      But, how many countries does Microsoft have offices in? How much would it cost to win the same lawsuit again, and again, and again? So, they settled with Microsoft paying them around $20M to change their name.

      Trademarks on generic words are extremely weak.
  • by TimCrider (215456) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:22PM (#12007441)
    He could have called it iScrabble and had Apple on their ass too.
  • by p0rnking (255997) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:22PM (#12007443) Homepage
    Now i do agree this probably isn't the best way to deal with it, by sending a cease and desist letter, Hasbro does have the right. I'm pretty sure that it's clearly marked on the box, and in the instruction manual that scarbble, it's name and idea are owned by hasboro.

    It's not like they just patented the game, and now are on a manhunt to raise revenue by suing people who have created anything similar to their game.

    If another game company created a game that is pretty much the same thing, and used "scrabble" in the name, would they not be fair game also? If so, then why is the internet and software any different?

    And to top it all off, I'm sure with 100,000+ users, he has to be making a few dollars off of it, which gives hasboro even more reason to go after him.

    But like it says in the summary, Hasboro should have offered him some sort of a deal, I'm sure there's more to gain from it.
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:25PM (#12007483)
    We also demand that you provide us with information concerning the extent of your uses of any elements of the SCRABBLE game, as well as information regarding the distribution of your electronic Scrabble game to enable us to assess more precisely the extent of the damage done.

    Translation: You give Us the rope to hang you with.

    Advice: I'd immediately refuse that "offer" on the basis of my Constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

    Thought: Does Hasbro have the same lawyers as SCO?

  • by mcguyver (589810) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:27PM (#12007502) Homepage
    >Hasbro should pay Jared, not sue him

    Actually Jared should lease the name Scrable from Hasbro then charge his users to cover that fee...at least that's how the real world works.

    Having the domain name e-scrabble.com was just asking for trouble...
  • Why this is absurd! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:30PM (#12007522)
    This is absurd becuase...

    ...Hasbro is not running their own online game. He's not stealing their online business. They should reward him for creating a market where none existed, and license him the electronic rights to the game at a profit to Hasbro.

    Yeah, right. Maybe in a reasonable world.

  • German Boardgames (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hibiki_r (649814) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:31PM (#12007526)

    Compare Hasbro's behavior on this matter to what german boardgame companies do about online boardgames. Websites likeBSW [brettspielwelt.de]let you play dozens of boardgames, using the original rules and art, at no cost and without any ads. Why? playing boardgames online is a poor subsitute to playing face to face. Many people, me included, like to visit websites like this to try the games out. If the game is any good, I buy the game to play at social gatherings with my friends. Who is not going to buy a scrabble board because you can play online?

    Some companies, like Days of Wonder [daysofwonder.com], let you play their games for free in their own website!. Hasbro should learn from this, and enter into a license agreement with eScrabble. For example, let the site use the trademark in exchange of having eScrabble link promintently to the Hasbro online store, where users could by a RL version of Scrabble. This kind of agreements are not unheard of, and only help both parties.

  • by prezninja (552043) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:36PM (#12007566) Homepage
    home to over 100,000 active players, has been hosting up online versions of the game to happily addicted players for over a year now (maybe more), and only now does Hasbro come forth with a lawsuit.

    Only now? A year?

    Give me a break. A year is not a long time for a site to be running and gain enough of a following to prompt the attention of the corporation to the point where they realize "This is signficantly infringing on the rights we have to the game we invested in, and thus have a continued interest in protecting the value of," consider their options, and then organize a lawful approach to the situation.

    Authors of the "e-Microsoft" and "e-Slashdot" comments above hit the nail right on the head, and as much as they deserve their "+5 Insightful", it makes me wish there was a "+5 Commonsense".

  • Happened to me... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jhines0042 (184217) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:40PM (#12007589) Journal
    Seriously. Back in 1995 I had a website up on my schools computer that was for Connect Four. I got calls from Hasbro's lawyers. Of course, once they found out that I didn't make any money on it they stopped returning my calls.

    1000 games played per day in 1995/1996 was pretty good web traffic. The site got its URL published in a kids magazine, complete with a sticker. Great fun.
  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:40PM (#12007594)
    More than 10 years ago, something similar happened on IRC. This was when most of IRC was "efnet", and it had only a couple thousand live users at once. There was a popular channel called #jeopardy, that had a well-designed automatic bot-run Jeopardy game anyone could drop in and play.

    The real Jeopardy folks came along, and sooner than you can say "I'll take `Frivolous Lawsuits` for $100, Alex" they ordered #jeopardy to stop.

    The #jeopardy folks changed a few names, called it #Risky Business (or #riskybus ?) and kept going for a while longer. You can see it here [eingang.org]. The screen on the page looks rather Jeopardy-like. So far, I think they have avoided frivolous lawsuits from Tom Cruise.

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:44PM (#12007628) Homepage
    Hasbro should pay Jared, not sue him.

    It amazes me how otherwise-intelligent people can be so incapable of grokking a few basic legal principles. "Scrabble" is a trademark; only the holder of that trademark gets to use it. Sure there are some nuances to deal with, but at its heart it's a pretty simple and obvious rule. This Jared fella's an idiot to violate it, apparently not even trying to find an imaginative way around it. And the submitter of this article's an idiot for not understanding that.

    I know it's cool to complain about how the law always sticks it to the little guy, but trademark law isn't just there to benefit corporations. It may not mean much in this case, but usually it benefits consumers too: it's how you know that "iPod" you bought is really going to live up to Apple's rep for good engineering. Be careful what you whine.

    And that editorial comment about how Hasbro should pay this guy - for writing software and operating a site that's obviously designed to cut into the sales of their board sets! - is simply no-brain-engaged stupid. Yeah, maybe they should offer him a job. But maybe he should have had the sense to suggest that to them in the first place, and to take "no" for an answer and work around their legal rights, rather than instead painting a big "sue me" bulls-eye on his forehead.

  • Yes, e-scrabble violates Hasbro's trademark. Fine. e-scrabble should have chosen a different domain name. But the board (with "double score", etc.) is copyrighted. However, Scrabble was invented in 1948, and with the copyright law in force at that time, would have been copyrighted for 56 years (ending in 2004) were it not for the retroactive Copyright Law of 1976.

    It is these retroactive copyright laws that Eldred was arguing to the Supreme Court created perpetual copyrights, in variance with the U.S. Constitution that called for a "limited time".

  • by shanen (462549) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:31PM (#12008017) Homepage Journal
    The whole point of IP law is to prevent such tragic innovations and creativity. Remember:
    To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts...
    Wait a minute, something's wrong here. How about:
    The best laid plans of mice and men...
    Yeah, that's more like it.

    The founders sure had a lot of clever ideas that have been completely forgotten along the way, and usually for the sake of making a buck. Actually, pretty pointless to worry about it, but I think if he were writing the Constitution now, Jefferson would have explicitly specified that "limited time" did not mean "forever or as long as we can milk two more cents out of the original creativity, whichever comes first." After careful reflection, he probably would have said that software patents should last about 6 months. Remember that the goal was to *ENCOURAGE* creativity, not to create an ironclad system to stifle it.

  • Grow up. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stonecypher (118140) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .rehpycenots.> on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:45PM (#12008130) Homepage Journal
    Oh horseshit.

    The game scrabble has a long history of legal defense. Hasbro's FAQ is very clear about the point. The guy just turned around and created a raw duplicate of a copywritten and patented game, and put it on the web in direct competition with Hasbro. I guarantee he never asked Hasbro permission. This isn't the first time Hasbro has said "cut it out." They haven't asked for any damages, they haven't asked for any of the money that this guy collected on their game, and they haven't asked for the registration data of any of the people which paid for a game that they own, all of which Hasbro has the rights to.

    At what point does something become Jared's fault? What does he have to do to be in the wrong? Stealing a defended design and making money on it for a solid year doesn't make him a thief? I mean, so what if it took Hasbro some time to notice? That means they're supposed to just give things away? You think it's Hasbro's responsibility to scour the web every day looking for someone flaunting their right to retain their own materials?

    So okay. I'm gonna put a monopoly game up. Doesn't matter that Hasbro says they won't allow that. Doesn't matter that I'm not going to ask them. I'm just going to copy their copyright without any pretense at all, and collect money and users on it, doing significant damage to Hasbro's trademarks and causing a minor blip (horseshit - hundreds of thousands of users) in their finances.

    When it takes them six months to notice, and then they turn around and tell me no in the kindest and most forgiving possible legally enforcable way, I'm going to go crying to slashdot, and get an editor to tell the world that Hasbro should be paying me to steal their copyrights, their users, and their money.

    It's like you guys aren't even trying to be honest anymore. Big corporation? THEIR FAULT. It doesn't matter that this guy didn't even bother to change any text on the board, that he's not even trying to hide the theft on which he's making assloads of money. No, Hasbro is daring to defend their trademark, which they have to do or else kenner and parker brothers can start making Scrabble too, and so when Hasbro says "hey cut it out" and doesn't ask for any of their money, somehow they're being bastards.

    And when I bust into your house and take all your things while you're on vacation and it takes you a week to notice, and you go to the cops and ask me to stop stealing, but don't ask for your things back or for me to go to jail, I'll be sure to go to slashdot and tell them what a bastard you are that I was allowed to take the things in your home for an entire week and now they want me to start not being a thief.

    Grow up.
  • by sbaker (47485) * on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:50PM (#12008176) Homepage
    I think Hasbro are perfectly within their rights to shut down this site. The guy who runs it wasn't thinking straight when he decided to clone another companies product, use their trademark, copy their copyrighted board design, etc. That was just dumb.

    HOWEVER, the fact that Hasbro left it so long without doing anything about it is pretty dubious.

    There is no reason why a company who actually cares about protecting their copyrights, trademarks and patents shouldn't have one of their employees type each of their trademarked names into Google once a week and send cease & desist notices out promptly as soon as infringing sites appear.

    What sucks here is that the site has been running for so long - so many people have invested time and effort into it (and others come to love it) - presumably on the basis of "Hasbro clearly approve of this or they'd have shut it down already".

    There can be no morally sound reason not to protect your IP immediately. The reasons NOT to do so are purely sneaky business tactics like letting some guy build up a huge following for a web site - then taking it away and using it to advertise.

    However, the law allows this kind of thing - so we get this kind of deliberately delayed reaction appearing all over the IP world. The law should not allow it - but then IP law is so unbelievably screwed up, this is one of the lesser evils.

  • poor guy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icepick72 (834363) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:16AM (#12008392)
    and only now does Hasbro come forth with a lawsuit.

    And only a year ago did e-Scrabble steal the property of Hasbro. Some guy stole my car a year ago and only now have the police broken up the theft ring -- that poor thief is being stomped on by the police.

    it always seems a tragedy when a big corporation stomps its heavy foot on a fledgling but very successful piece of web software that is close to many people's heart

    ya, i know ... every little guy should be able to steal stuff from any big guy. I don't know why ... it just seems like it should be a rule ... because it warms my heart.

    's also the best online Scrabble game I've seen; Hasbro should pay Jared, not sue him

    If Jared's so smart, then he should apply a little wisdom towards an effort that is all his own. It's easy to make money off somebody else's ideas, but to come up with your own is another story.

  • Torrent? (Score:5, Funny)

    by gothzilla (676407) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @10:17AM (#12011226)
    So who's got a torrent of the game?

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