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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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  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Re:Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 21, 2005 @09:56PM (#12007186)
    Or, if you can't innovate and can't afford to litigate, copy old Hasbro games and put them on the internet.
  • 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?
  • 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.

  • 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
  • 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.
  • by eln (21727) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:06PM (#12007295) Homepage
    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.
  • 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...
  • by Lead Butthead (321013) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:10PM (#12007332) Journal
    That's not the point. The point is that it can get expensive defending against such lawsuits. It's not uncommon for large companies filing meritless lawsuits knowing full well their targets are likely to settle since they can't afford the legal fees involved.
  • Re:Copyrightable? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by assassinator42 (844848) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:10PM (#12007336)
    Yahoo games has Literati, which is like Scrabble but with a different name. I haven't seen this e-scrabble site, but I'm sure changing the name would also work for them.
  • Why pay? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bitflip (49188) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:12PM (#12007349)
    Hasbro has a pretty open-and-shut case. Why pay for e-scrabble, when they can acquire it as part of a settlement?
  • 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. ^_^
  • 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....
  • by madHomer (2207) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:18PM (#12007406)
    It's one thing to shut down a man's website, but you don't need to go and steal his domain name:
    ...Because the e-Scrabble URL is of no use to you, it should be transferred to Hasbro...
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:23PM (#12007455) Journal
    Uh, it's Hasbro's property that e-Scrabble has copied. Tell me again who's the party that's failing to innovate here?

    Hasbro is totally in the right here. It's their game, their trademarks, their ballgame, yet you and others here are painting Hasbro out to be the bad guys? Why? For protecting what's its own property?

    Let's play a game of word substitution for a minute. Let's pretend that "Hasbro" = "F/OSS developer", "Scrabble" = "GPLed code" and that "e-Scrabble" = "commercial/CSS developer". Now, imagine a commercial/CSS developer took someone else's GPLed code and ignored all relevant copyrights, trademarks and legal protections. Now whose side are you on?

    The guys at e-Scrabble broke the law. They know they did and you know they did. So don't make Hasbro out to be the bad guy because they've asked e-Scrabble to stop.

    Heck, Hasbro hasn't even taken legal action, it's politely (as politely as can be done in such cases where the law is concerned) asked e-Scrabble to just quit what it's been doing. If they really were evil then they would be litigating right now, and demanding the shirts of these guys backs to compensate for lost sales (however fictional those lost sales may be).

    Hasbro has done everything right here. So far, it's done things by the book and it's done things in as politely and as amicably as it can, given the circumstances. If you want to see an example of "if you can't innovate, litigate" then I suggest you check out RIAA and its friends.
  • 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?

    Yes, because with the park, you pay Hasbro for the Scrabble sets you use. The creator of this site doesn't.

  • 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?

  • Re:Copyrightable? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cryptnotic (154382) * on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:27PM (#12007501) Homepage
    No, but the design and mechanics of a game are patentable.

    Patents are only good for what? 17 years? Scrabble has been around a lot longer than that.

  • 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".

  • Re:Pay him? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by racas (633636) <rei_saru@washout.net> on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:41PM (#12007605) Homepage

    Is everyone else done with the Subway jokes?

    Having never used eScrabble myself, I cannot attest to how good it is. But as to Why would Hasbro pay Jared? What are they getting out of it exactly?:

    Well, they get an online version of their *really good* board game, without having to hire coders to write it. This online version shows people who've never played the game how much fun it is. It tells them it exists because of the ads that would be splotched all over the page "Like this version? Buy the board game and play with your technophobic friends!"

  • by swimin (828756) on Monday March 21, 2005 @10:43PM (#12007619)
    If a way to play a game isn't patentable, then why should a way to do something in software be patentable?
  • 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.

  • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 404 Clue Not Found (763556) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:04PM (#12007797)
    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.
  • Re:THEIR product? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by servognome (738846) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:08PM (#12007824)
    After all, the "e-" in "e-Scrabble" ain't for nothing!
    And the "Scrabble" in "e-scrabble" ain't for nothing, it's there to fraudulently associate his product with the board game Hasbro owns. If he named it e-tiles, or e-words, Hasbro wouldn't care, Yahoo has Literati a Scrabble knock-off.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:15PM (#12007901)
    As someone who practices copyright law, I have to say that you're fairly well off the mark.

    The "idea" of a board/2D game based on making words out of individual letters is not copyrightable. The "idea" of the rules is not copyrightable -- but only to the extent that the rules involve the steps of drawing a tile or tiles, playing a word, and adding up a score (common elements in many games).

    That being said:

    The expressive aspects of the game are certainly copyrightable. For instance:

    The values of the individual letters - you don't get to copy these, they are to a certain extent arbitrary and altough you can discern a general rule, you cannot say that it inevitably leads you to chose those particular values for any variation of the game.

    The ways in which the values of a play are increased - I don't pretend to know all of the details of Scrabble, but the bonus for using all your tiles is certainly an expressive aspect of the rules [note: I'm not saying that you could copyright the rule, but the rule is an arbitrary aspect of the whole game].

    The layout of the board - the size of the board, the geometric layout of the bonus squares, any blocking squares, etc., are all arbitrary components that are part of the Scrabble(C)(TM) expression of a word-building type game.

    This guy was not just asking for trouble by ripping off the Scrabble trademark. This guy was asking for trouble by cloning the Scrabble game so that he could attract Scrabble players. He could have built any board/2D word building game EXCEPT one derived from Scrabble (different letter values, different board layout, different set of multipliers/bonuses) EXCEPT THAT HE COULDN'T because this particular game is the one that Scrabble players are familiar with, have practiced for, and want to compete within.

    The sad part is, if he had writtin the program and offered it to Hasbro, at least he would have a strong business case. But because he has already "distributed" the program, he has essentially written a very good Scrabble game for Hasbro for free (derivative works become the property of the copyright holder in most suits - a particularly nasty consequence).

    Hopefully business-like heads will prevail and some type of beneficial settlement can take place.
  • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pchan- (118053) on Monday March 21, 2005 @11:16PM (#12007908) Journal
    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 against himself (the individual), by a multi-billion dollar corporation. What choice do you have?
  • 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:4, Insightful)

    by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xpticalNO@SPAMgmail.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.
  • Grow up. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher&gmail,com> 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.
  • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:11AM (#12008349) Journal
    The site itself could continue, if it were changed enough to not infringe on the Scrabble trademark.

    If you read the C&D letter, you'll see that Hasbro is also alleging copyright violations, namely the board layout and the use of their rules.

    So, unless he can completely reinvent the game, I think he's TSOL. He should still consult a lawyer, if for no other reason that to reach an agreement with Hasbro not to sue him if he complies with their demand.

    If you could find someone really forward thinking at Hasbro in a position to make decisions, a creative alternate arrangement could be reached, where fatty Jared could either license the material from Hasbro, or they could take over the site and put him on the payroll. Given the nature of most suits and bean counters, this is a highly improbable outcome.
  • Re:Uhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher&gmail,com> 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?
  • 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.

  • by afabbro (33948) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @12:20AM (#12008424) Homepage
    The values of the individual letters - you don't get to copy these, they are to a certain extent arbitrary and altough you can discern a general rule, you cannot say that it inevitably leads you to chose those particular values for any variation of the game.

    I understand your point, but to nitpick...in this case, that is a bad example. The score of the letters is based upon their frequency in the English language, which is why using X is more points than E. Anyone making a game similar to Scrabble would be highly likely, perhaps even certain, to choose such a scheme, and there is probably no way to avoid making an E worth 1 point and an X worth more.

  • 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."
  • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by danheskett (178529) <danheskett@gmail.OPENBSDcom minus bsd> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @01:17AM (#12008822)
    Right. Take that to a judge. e-Scrabble has no legitimate use to a person who was illegally running a game of Scrabble. This isn't an innocent bystander frenchman who loves to cook with eggs.

    Situational ethics at its worse...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @01:23AM (#12008859)
    I understand your point as well. I should not have flatly stated "you don't get to copy these".

    The question is does mere letter frequency dictate the particular Scrabble-esque values of all 26 letters. I am stretching my knowledge beyond safe bounds, but I believe that the scores were also tweaked based on the frequency with which a letter appears within the Scrabble tile set. My point was not E=1, and E less than X, but that 26 letters have 26 particular values and that eScrabble copied the entire set. Also, this is one aspect of the game rules, not necessarily an independently copyrightable aspect.

    I was attempting to introduce this concept in a separate reply, but it belongs here, so here it is:

    Even if an individual element/aspect does not constitute expression that can be protected by copyright, a particular collection of elements/aspects (whether Scrabble rules, or historic public domain photographs, or modern public domain statistics) can be "expressive" and protected by copyright by virtue of the author's choices in selecting and rejecting the individual elements. The pieces remain in the public domain, but someone cannot in essence copy the set simply by reproducing or recollecting the public domain pieces with reference to the collection.

    Thus, at some point you have copied so many elements of the Scrabble game that you leave the realm of idea and transgress into the realm of expression. It may be that Scrabble-esque letter values are not enough, but perhaps the letter values + number of letter tiles + number drawn at one time + bonus for using all tiles drawn at once is enough.
  • 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.
  • by timothy (36799) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @01:42AM (#12008961) Homepage Journal
    I wrote the comment you're complaining about, and here's a small (one-shot) response.

    When I worked at my University's student paper, we would get letters from due-diligence lawyers pointing out that Kleenex is a trademark -- not sure if we had actually mis-used it; I think those letters come every year. I'm not surprised by the C&D letter, and agree with you that Hasbro is within their rights and obligations to say "cut it out" to Jared.

    I don't think that the law always sticks it to the little guy (that happens, and so does the opposite. Certain aspects -- like the money it takes to sustain any legal fight past 1 day in small-claims court -- may not favor the little guy, but especially in tort cases, greed and envy often put the big guy at a different sort of disadvantage ... ), and I agree with you that trademark law in particular is not there only or merely to benefit corporations. It is sometimes used in ways I think are abusive, but no one's arguing that.

    I also agree with you that trademarks are valuable tools for customers, and if you hadn't I might have raised the same example (the iPod). I'm not whining to get rid of trademarks, or copyrights, or patents. All three are broken in different ways, maybe, but I think they're all worth salvaging. (My sink is dripping IRL, and needs fixing soon, but I won't be taking it out with a sledgehammer!)

    This is a hard point -- I can't prove it, and it's unfalsifiable (too many variables for us to do anything but disagree), but I don't think that e-Scrabble cuts down on sales of the board game. (It might in some cases, and it might increase sales in others; I respectfully doubt that it was "designed to cut into the sales of their board sets," and will until I see some reason to think otherwise. It seems to me that Jared liked the game and wanted to make an easy way for people to play it from a distance.) At the age of the game, I suspect that most Scrabble sales are either plain replacements for old ones (missing tiles are a pain, and the boards rip after enough abuse), or upgrades to the Deluxe swiveling model, or Travel or (mega?)Scrabble -- the one with more tiles and a larger board. The online version seems useful (IMO) only when people *can't* play face-to-face. I've played more (physical) scrabble since being reminded of it by e-scrabble, and in-person is a different experience. I wouldn't play scrabble with friends by sitting around a table with open laptops :) That is, I *might* do that, but I'd sure rather go out (if I didn't have one already!) and buy the game, which is $10-12 the last time I purchased one.

    (For the same reason, I doubt that the version of Solitaire pre-loaded on Windows, or all the other card games people can play on their computers, cut measurably into the sale of decks of cards. Card sales might be down in general, but I doubt simply because there are electronic versions.)

    When I say Hasbro should pay him, I don't mean they're obligated to. I mean that he's created a brilliantly easy way to play scrabble with distant people, something which Hasbro (to my knowledge) has not. There's a huge online interest in Scrabble (whaddya know?), with word-freaks and more casual players like me trying to increase our scores, and Jared's version would be a perfect addition to the official site. I can't make Hasbro's decisions, and maybe I'm completely wrong. Maybe people would stop buying boards and make their weekly games over coffee distributed-solo events rather than in-person social gatherings in great enough numbers to actually affect their sales. I believe the opposite is true, though. Jared's version of Scrabble, with built-in chat, ability to "eavesdrop" on others' ongoing games, and extremely non-intrusive Web design, I think could be a great hook for current non-players. It's not as if Scrabble is an up-and-comer! I think of it nowadays (mostly) as a game for old people, even though I'm only half-old, and many of the people I've played are younger. It has a timeles
  • by asb (1909) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:22AM (#12009199) Homepage

    Well, a game that is configurable is similar -- although the threat of death is certainly not there. Sure, it might be legal to set up a game so that the user could turn it into Scrabble, but that game would greatly facilitate people to break the law. In fact, you and I both know that such an attempt would merely be an end-run around valid trademark laws.

    You'r computer can be configured to run an illegal copy of Windows XP. I've reported you to the FBI and they will begin confiscating your equipment shortly.

    Where do you draw the line?

  • Re:Grow up. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:42AM (#12009319) Homepage Journal
    It's the combination of the scoring system, the rules regarding acceptable words, the rules regarding tile counts, timing of tile exchange, scoring, the bonus cells on the board, etc.

    Basically, the patent on scrabble is the difference between putting letters on a grid and the game Scrabble. I hope that makes sense.

    As a game designer, I actually tend to see that difference as important and the defense as reasonable, though I can see how others might disagree.
  • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zeinfeld (263942) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:44AM (#12009335) Homepage
    Actually, that's not quite right. If Coca Cola revealed its formula, you would be free to make your own drink and sell it, but just because a trade secret is leaked out doesn't mean that it is fair game. For example, if a disgruntled employee of Coca Cola decided to publish the formula, it could still be protected under trade secret law. A corporation only has to make reasonable efforts to protect the secrecy of their product.

    No, a court would stop the employee from profiting from the theft because they are covered by an NDA. But anyone else who gets hold of the information in good faith is free to do what they want with it.

    The example is in any case moot since the recipie has been known for years. It is pretty much an iced tea made with the leaves of a number of plants with a huge quantity of sugar added. The Kott company has a pretty good facsimile which is why the own label colas taste much better than they once did.

    I am surprised nobody seems to have had the idea of designer cola to sell in espresso bars.

  • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:52AM (#12009372) Homepage Journal
    That's a matter of viewpoint. As I see it, the primary reason for algorithms being immoral to patent is that they're simple things which evolve from simple needs, not works of creativity.

    Now, whether or not you believe someone would have invented LZW if LZW hadn't entered computer science - which I do - and even if you ignore that the purpose of the patent system is to grant a temporary protection to an invention or discovery to give economic incentive to research by creating a market, which this satisfies, there's still a very good reason deep down in one's gut to believe that nobody should be able to control a simple set of equations representing a fundamental property of the world we live in and the natural extrapolations thereof.

    I should point out that I think saying "algorithm" here is dangerous - entirely too many things can be legitimately called algorithms, including kitchen recipes, driving habits, and the migration patterns of birds - and the word is being used for emotional content to describe something as fundamental in order to make it seem like it shouldn't be the case that someone can fence it off and call it theirs.

    Consider by contrast haiku. The number of haiku that can be written are finite in a realistic way; it would not be absurd to try to generate every legal set of words to satisfy one of the haiku patterns, though it'd admittedly be sort of pointless. To wit, we still see haiku as an art, as a work of creativity, an exposition of the soul (some see it as a very pure such thing,) and as such we afford it all the protections that we do our other creative works.

    He wrote that. It's his. He should keep it.

    So, what about games? Monopoly does not represent a fundamental property of the universe, and other than that the squares with names from New Jersey invariably don't cost much, there's nothing in the game which would have naturally come up on its own. Sure, monopoly can be relatively easily represented by a set of deterministic algorithms with human-controlled yes/no decisions. Does that mean it's not creative?

    By the viewpoint which supports software patent reform or destruction, the reason that LZW shouldn't be patentable is that it's a fundamental part of our existence.

    Connect Four is not. It's a creative work. By that dint, I believe it should be protectable.
  • Re:Uhhh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:11AM (#12009454) Homepage Journal
    They're not going after the small software developers. They're not even going after a lot of the people selling the game, especially on platforms like cellular phones and palm pilots.

    He collected money from hundreds of thousands of people. That's not small potatoes.
  • 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:Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @05:39AM (#12009997)
    IANAL- just like to pretend and pay attention when issues arise....

    There is a legal defence of laches (Negligence or undue delay in asserting a legal right or privilege: dictionary.com). Not exactly the best in the world, but if the ever broadening discovery of electronic documents uncovers evidence that the company knew about the site for a couple of years but did not bother to care, then it is a little difficult to claim that the site is currently irrepairibly damaging the consumer's association of scrabble with hasbro.

    At least traditionally trademark is not really something to own concretely, even though companies would like it to be, have repeatedly argued as if it were the case, and at least as far as branding on apparel, team gear, ect. have made some head- way in that direction (in certain circuits). Otherwise, I was taught to think of it as a bonafide good reputation or indicator of quality.

    In reality, regardless of the merits or no, if it were to go to court it would be in hasbro's interest to prolong the matter until the little guy ran out of money to pay thier council. When you have a big army, a siege is still quite effective.

    felis, too lazy to log in....
  • by RedLaggedTeut (216304) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @06:41AM (#12010216) Homepage Journal
    Well, since you mention Pepsi Cola vs Coca Cola - I always wondered why Pepsi got away with using a similar name - I guess there must have been variants of "Cola" out there when Coca Cola entered the business.

    Imagine chess had been invented in our times, and trademarked, then no-one could use the word "chess" to sell a chess set. It is kind of worrying that common culturals stock can become 0wn3d by big business this way. Just consider that the workaround would be to privately rename every game: "Uh, chess? We call it 'wuyallix' here."
  • Re:y'know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tacocat (527354) <tallison1NO@SPAMtwmi.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.

  • Re:Is this /.? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by surprise_audit (575743) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @08:21AM (#12010539)
    That's because most of us recognise that this particular coder is a total dumbass for using copyrighted material and trademarks without permission. The paraphrase what everyone else has been saying, he'd have been somewhat safer if he'd designed his own board layout and come up with a different name for the game.
  • Wow. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @08:27AM (#12010559)
    I'm not sure where this story starts with the stupid, but it certainly does wallow in it. Let's see, for over a year you have blatantly used copyrighted material. You get caught, and instead of just taking down the material, you get indignant about it, and Slashdot backs you up. Huh. Let's count the ways you could have NOT ended up here in the first place.

    1. Not used the word Scrabble in reference to your game. (even better, not used a 1 letter difference in the name.)
    2. Made a word game with very similar rules that does not use very obvious imitations of the commercial game.
    3. Made an ORIGINAL word game

    Geez, talk about an easy fix. But NOOOOOOOoo, we better all get self-rightious about this and piss all over Hasbro for not wanting you to copy their game. You do all know that it is in fact, THEIR GAME, right? nobody forgot that did they? of course not, that would be stupid.

    grow up.
  • by reallocate (142797) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @10:37AM (#12011405)
    1. It isn't a "basic word game". It is a direct copy of Scrabble that leverages awareness and the popularity of Scrabble to attract business. In simple terms, they're playing on the Scrabble name without Scrabble's permission. That's a classic setup for drawing a lawsuit. Suppose you started a website called e-Yahoo or e-Slashdot that did the same thing as Yahoo and Slashdot. Do you really think you wouldn't be sued?

    2. It isn't important if ancient Greeks played a game that involved putting little letter squares together to make words. Or, if they didn't. What counts is that Hasbro owns a specfic game called Scrabble that e-Scrabble copied.

    3. The Times doesn't own crossword puzzles. They own the puzzles that appear in the Times. If you start a site called e-crosswords, they won't care. If you start a site called e-NYT-Crosswords, they'll send lawyers.
  • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Trailer Trash (60756) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @10:45AM (#12011458) Homepage

    but should you be able to own game concept and rules?

    Yes, you should. I'm sorry- I (and most people) think that people should be able to make money from creative works. Sorry if you don't agree, comrade, but that's the way it is...

  • Re:Uhhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by robertjw (728654) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @01:18PM (#12013215) Homepage
    Personally I'd just make e-scrabble a porn site. See how Hasbro likes that when the kiddies search for Scrabble and get naked people.
  • Sensible action (Score:2, Insightful)

    by metheglen (142891) on Wednesday March 23, 2005 @07:41PM (#12030173)
    Jared's closed the site.

    1 - In what way was he making money from it (I played there, never had to pay, didn't have to look at ads or anything.)

    2 - Copyright and trademark infringement aside, I'd be careful about going after some of these people - Sony have "recently" done that and lost their trademark on walkman in Austria (and derivatively elsewhere - I'll just include the brandchannel article [brandchannel.com])

    Kinda makes you wonder about the iPod dunnit? iPod is becoming a victim of it's own success with regards to naming. Many people here in NZ refer to all mp3 players as iPods... weirdos.

    meth

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern

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