Thursday, January 17, 2008

Copyright infringement: two options

I recently posted about my latest addiction, namely the Facebook application Scrabulous - by far the feature of Facebook I use most heavily. As the name implies, the game is pretty much an exact replica of Scrabble that can be played online.

Hasbro is not impressed.

Like over 25,000 other people (at the time of writing) I recently joined a Facebook group called "Save Scrabulous", from which comes the following:

On January 11, 2008, the world learned that Hasbro, creators of the popular game Scrabble, has sent a cease and desist letter to Facebook and others over the popular Facebook application Scraboulous. The copyright infringement is obvious and, in retrospect, the developers of Scraboulous should have done more to create their own spin on it (rather than using the same color systems and numerical systems and having the rules to Scraboulous game link to the Scrabble Wikipedia page).

We in this group realize this, but we urge Hasbro to make the right decision. Rather than kill this application, they should work out a peaceful compromise with the developers to keep this success going. Many of the daily 500,000+ users of Scraboulous never played Scrabble before, but they were introduced to it using this friendly and convenient format. This application earns roughly $25,000 monthly in revenues from advertisements, which part of which could theoretically go to Hasbro if the parties come to a peaceful compromise.

We urge Hasbro to make the right decision. Don’t tick off the millions of Facebook Scraboulous fans that use this application.

I would like to contrast this approach with another story about copyright infringement.

People outside of the UK may not have heard of England's less famous fictional bear: Paddington. Many years ago, a lady called Shirley Clarkson (mother of the more famous Jeremy) made her son and daughter, who loved the stories of this marmalade eating bear from Peru, a Paddington bear for Christmas. Shirley was skilled at making toys and the bear was a hit. People suggested there was a market for the product. Shirley blithely went ahead and made and sold a few of the bears to some local shops - blissfully ignorant of the breach of copyright. Not two weeks later, the author of the Paddington bear books, Michael Bond, walked by a store and recognised his bear in the window... except for one small difference. This bear was wearing wellington boots. In the books, Paddington had bare (bear?) feet. This was because, when she made him, the only way Shirley could get him to stand was to give him a little pair of wellies.

It could have turned very nasty. Instead, Michael Bond sought out the Clarksons and came to an agreement. They are friends to this day. He also went off and wrote a story in which Paddington came to be the proud owner of a pair of wellington boots.

As a consequence of this agreement, Shirley Clarkson's business grew from a one-woman cottage industry to become an international business. It is fair to say that the business later collapsed, but then Shirley happily admits that the she hasn't an ounce of business sense, and it seems she was duped by an unscrupulous business manager.

I think the story between Hasbro and the developers of Scrabulous could have been a much happier one. After all, I think it likely that Scrabulous has made Scrabble players out of people who might never otherwise have considered engaging in the game, in much the same way as JK Rowling made readers out of kids with the attention span of a gnat and zero interest in books.

Postscript: If you'd like to know more about Shirley's story, her book Bearly Believable My Part in the Paddington Bear Story is due for release in June. Please note that I have no connection with the book and stand to gain nothing from this - it just seemed the polite thing to do.

1 comment:

Frodownthrift said...

Hmm interesting.
yea that the least you want to do to be on the badside of Facebook users.