Online Scrabble comes to Facebook, but not to Canada

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

On Monday RealNetworks launched an online version of Scrabble on Facebook, putting it in direct competition with the wildly popular Scrabulous, the developer-created game that has landed in legal hot water for its striking similarities to Scrabble.

The "real" Scrabble will have an uphill climb to attain the success of Scrabulous, which now regularly attracts nearly 600,000 daily users and is listed as one of Facebook's 10 most popular applications.

Scrabulous was created in July 2006 by Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla from Kolkata, India, using a colour-coded board similar to Scrabble's. Lawyers for toy makers Hasbro and Mattel said the Scrabulous program infringes on their copyright for the word-based board game and have been pressuring Facebook to remove the game.

Not that Canadians will be rushing to play the new online Scrabble. In what has become a tangled web of trademarks, RealNetworks owns the digital rights to Scrabble outside of North America through a deal with Mattel. Hasbro, however, owns the Canadian and U.S. rights to the game and has deals with both RealNetworks and Electronic Arts for digital rights. As a result, the new Scrabble Facebook application isn't available to users with Canadian Facebook profiles.

In the meantime, the makers of Scrabulous created a less legally contentious new Facebook app in March: Chess Pro. It has attracted over 16,000 users so far, but also has competition from another application called - surprise, surprise - Chess.

Not only can North Americans add either program, the applications themselves are also unlikely to invoke the legal ire of the descendants (and not ancestors, as Norman pointed out. My ancestors would be ashamed) of whatever 6th-century grandmaster first devised the rules for early generations of the game.