Facebook Application Scrabulous Suspended

The popular Facebook application Scrabulous has been suspended for users in the U.S. and Canada after threats of legal action from Hasbro, the makers of Scrabble . Stefan Fatsis, of The Wall Street Journal, says the move is a short-term disaster for Hasbro.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

People who signed into Facebook today looking for their daily fix of Scrabulous received a curt message instead: Scrabulous is disabled for U.S. and Canadian users until further notice. Well, can you spell bummer? Scrabulous is the most popular online version of the game Scrabble, and its disappearance was the most drastic development in a legal battle over the popular word game.

Joining us to talk about that and some offline Scrabble is our own Stefan Fatsis. He's the author of the book "Word Freak," about the subculture of competitive Scrabble. Stefan, it's good to talk to you on this Tuesday.

STEFAN FATSIS: Good to talk to you too, Michele.

NORRIS: So you have the inventors of Scrabulous on one side, and on the other, the owners of the actual board game, the big toy company, Hasbro. Could you give us a quick background on this dispute?

FATSIS: Sure. The Scrabulous software was created a couple of years ago by a couple of brothers in India, Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, and it took off when it was added as a Facebook application on the social networking site. And they claimed to have a couple of million registered users and more than half a million regular players in North America.

But Hasbro says that this software violates the company's intellectual property, they threatened legal action a few months ago. And then last week, Hasbro sued the brothers in New York over what it called a clear and blatant infringement of its intellectual property. This all is reasonable by this company, Hasbro has to defend itself in the marketplace against copycats, though it's not an open-and-shut legal case.

NORRIS: Stefan, one question: Why didn't Hasbro just buy Scrabulous outright and keep the game's fan base, which I understand is quite large?

FATSIS: Well, apparently, there were some negotiations among the lawyers for Electronic Arts, which licenses Hasbro's games online, and the brothers and their lawyers. Now, Hasbro says it never wanted a partnership though, it rather wanted to develop its own Scrabble online application, which Electronic Arts has been doing. They want Scrabble to be consistent across platforms. Hasbro executives compare what's going on here with what happened in the music industry a few years ago when they cracked down on online sharing of songs.

The question, though, is whether Electronic Arts was ready to roll out their version of Scrabble, a Beta version of Scrabble on Facebook, before the company took this action and, essentially, forced Facebook to take Scrabulous down today.

NORRIS: So is it possible the company might be alienating core fans of the game? Is this possibly a bad PR move for Hasbro?

FATSIS: Well, judging from the initial reaction, it could be a short-term disaster for the company. Whether Scrabulous is legal or not, it was a terrific and is a terrific application, it's brought tens of thousands of people to the game that wouldn't normally be playing and including a lot of young people.

Scrabulous fans are creating groups online with names like We Hate Hasbro's Scrabble. There's the Save Scrabulous group that was formed when the threat of a shutdown emerged, it's got more than 46,000 members. And then today, while they were shutting down Scrabulous, the Beta version of Scrabble that Hasbro and Electronic Arts are promoting on Facebook crashed.

NORRIS: Well, let's turn to people who play Scrabble, the old-fashioned way, on the board. I understand there's a National Scrabble Championship wrapping up today.

FATSIS: Yes, it has wrapped up now. More 660 players got together for four days and they played 28 games at the National Scrabble Championship in Orlando, and we have a winner. And his name is Nigel Richards, he is a security engineer from New Zealand, he lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He beat in the final deciding game an options trader from Chicago and a former national and world Scrabble champion named Brian Cappelletto. This was one of the most incredible Scrabble games of all time, and I say that without too much hyperbole. These guys were tied at 370 and there were no tiles left in the bag.

To give you an idea of how many words they know. Brian played these words: serrying, S-E-R-R-Y-I-N-G; sarcine, S-A-R-C-I-N-E. Nigel played: innerve, I-N- N-E-R-V-E, and penates, P-E-N-A-T-E-S. And what you could call the winning word, the decisive word was: S-H-U-L-N, shuln, which is the plural of shul or synagogue.

NORRIS: Stefan, now, before we send our listeners running for the dictionaries, let me just ask you quickly about the standup teenagers in this tournament.

FATSIS: Well, there are six divisions at the National Scrabble Championship based on players' abilities. Four of them were won by players 19 years old or younger. One of the winners in the six and bottom division was Bradley Robins of Windham, New Hampshire, he's 11 years old.

NORRIS: Eleven?

FATSIS: Eleven. Like, cute as a button. And then he won 24 out of 28 Scrabble games against adults four and fives his age. He played a nine-letter word in one game - retaining - through I-N that was already on the board.

NORRIS: Impressive. Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis normally talks with us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports. And he doesn't only write about Scrabble, his new book is "A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL."

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

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