In yet another example of a big company not realizing the value in free publicity, Hasbro has sued the creators of the Scrabulous Facebook application for violating intellectual property rights. The Scrabulous application was created by two brothers and quickly became listed among the top ten most popular applications on the social networking site.
The lawsuit emerged as a result of Hasbro’s recent partnership with game-making behemoth Electronic Arts to create an online version of the board game, which is now available on Facebook. In a statement, a Hasbro spokesman said, “Scrabulous infringes on Hasbro’s trademark. Like all intellectual property owners, we take this type of infringement seriously. We are reviewing a number of options with the parties involved and hope to find an amicable solution. If we cannot come to one quickly, we will be forced to close down the site and its associated distribution points.”
The popularity of the application has sparked an online protest movement. As of this morning, over fifty thousand people had joined Facebook groups with names like “Save Scrabulous!” and “Give Us Scrabulous or Give Us Death.” And message boards are exploding with comments about the affair:
“This stinks of greed and, frankly, really goes against the whole idea of ‘fun’ that a toy company should promote. I hope they wake up and realize that the result of this action is alienating customers rather than attracting them, which is what they were already doing.”
“Why don’t Hasbro just strike a deal with Scrabulous? The Scrabulous design and format is so much better than the Scrabble one. I understand fully that Hasbro want to protect their intellectual property but can they not see what a PR disaster it will be for them if they kill Scrabulous?”
“I have already been invited to the ‘official’ Facebook Scrabble and refuse to join. I own TWO travel Scrabbles and one collector’s edition AND the Scrabble dictionary. Scrabulous has encouraged thousands of people who wouldn’t normally play the game to become interested and purchase Hasbro’s products.”
Despite the clear derivation from Hasbro’s long-beloved board game, the basis for the whole “violation of intellectual property rights” argument, simply shutting down Scrabulous and suing its creators, Hasbro risks losing both current and potential customers for its ‘bullying’ tactics. Hasbro could very well have turned this into a good thing for all parties involved: Scrabulous earns tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue every month, and with a quiet settlement, Hasbro could have reached an agreement with the creators of the application to receive a percentage of the profits or to perhaps add its own branding to the application. Instead, they have set a precedent for future Facebook application creators who might not be so inclined to create the extremely popular applications of tomorrow.
In short, Hasbro had the opportunity to turn an awesome viral marketing opportunity into a PR nightmare, and I for one hope that sales to the 18-to-30 crowd – the big spenders – suffer because of it. In the meantime, head over to www.scrabulous.com to play the game while it’s still available.