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Published: Wednesday, 7/30/2008

Suit keeps Facebook users from Scrabble-like game


NEW YORK - The creators of a Scrabble knockoff responsible for countless hours at the online hangout Facebook suspended their word game yesterday after being hit with a lawsuit.

Fans who logged on expecting to make their next moves were disappointed.

Hasbro Inc., the company that owns the North American rights to the word game, last week sued two brothers in Calcutta who created the Scrabulous program.

Separately, Hasbro asked Facebook to block the program; the site resisted despite a risk of losing immunity protection from copyright lawsuits.

In a statement, creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla said they agreed to block Scrabulous in the United States and Canada in deference to Facebook's concerns, while continuing to pursue their legal defense.

Rajat Agarwalla described the measures as "unfortunate."

Facebook said the Agarwalla brothers, not the company, made the decision.

In the year since Facebook began letting outside developers write Web programs that Facebook members can plug into their personal profile pages, Scrabulous has become one of the most popular applications, despite efforts by Scrabble's owners to end it.

Earlier this month, the video game maker Electronic Arts Inc. released an official version for American and Canadian Facebook users under a licensing deal with Hasbro. But the authorized Scrabble has been attracting only 15,000 daily users, compared with some half-million for Scrabulous.

The authorized version is actually still in a "beta" test mode and encountered technical problems yesterday.

After EA's release, Hasbro sued the Agarwalla brothers and their company in U.S. District Court in New York, accusing them of violating Hasbro's copyright and trademarks. The lawsuit seeks an end to Scrabulous and unspecified damages.

Facebook users who tried to access Scrabulous yesterday were told simply that the game was disabled "until further notice," and many Facebook users updated their one-line status messages on the site to mourn the suspension.

Laura Chefer, an Atlanta Facebook user who logs on about 20 times a day to check on Scrabulous, said she had no sympathy for Hasbro despite its rights to the game.

"I was definitely shocked and annoyed," she said. "These two guys went to all the trouble to make this interface, and now the big company is suing them, and we're no longer able to play."

The game continues to work at the developers' Web site, Scrabulous.com, but users must sign up and start games afresh.

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