Recently, on Netflix, I caught something that I had read about almost a year back – an easter egg of sorts. On my feed, I saw shows ‘watched by Frank Underwood’. For those who haven’t watched House of Cards, that’s the name of the show’s protagonist, played by Kevin Spacey. (fantastically, I’d add) The shows selected seem absolutely true to (his) character, which is manipulative, scheming, and truly Machiavellian!
That, I believe is what Hasbro and Scrabulous have gotten each other into. In case you guys have been tardy and not playing Scrabulous on Facebook, Scrabulous, a popular app on Facebook, modeled on Scrabble – the board game, has had to remove its application from the US and Canada, (for IP – the intellectual property kind, infringement) and Hasbro, who hold th rights for North Americsa, has done enough successful PR to be seen as the evil corporate monster. I hope Mattel is listening, as its case is awaiting resolution, and will affect the rest of the world. This is a worthwhile read on the finer legal points in this case, in terms of the American Copyright law.
I’ve been an avid user of Scrabulous and even joined the petition to ‘help save scrabulous’, which has about 50,000 members. I did that, then, on an emotional appeal level, without getting it into the right and wrong. The Agarwala brothers, who own the application had maintained that their intention was not to make money. Maybe it wasn’t initially. But, later too? Funny, considering that Scrabulous, at its peak had about half a million users and was generating $25000 per week from advertising. Funny also, that they didn’t just take the first payment agreement option that Hasbro had proposed. (rumoured to be around $10 million)
All this triggered a few thoughts. The makers of Scrabulous would definitely have known that they were on slippery territory as far as IPR goes, why did they have to do it. Yes, they did the world a favour by recreating a favourite game, and if, having realised their error, they accepted the Hasbro offer, all would have ended well. But perhaps, our democracy has also left us with a legacy of disregard for the law, of forcing grays between right and wrong, and turning a blind eye.
For me, it also brought to light a not-so-great facet of the crowd driven, transparency seeking, web 2.0. The founder of the group I’d mentioned earlier, a 15 year old, has collected a list of 1000 people who have promised never to buy a Scrabble board if Hasbro forced Scrabulous to close down. A guy who tried to start a discussion within the group on how Hasbro was right, got booed out of the place, with an allegation that he worked for Hasbro in some capacity. There was a scare that Hasbro’s official app on Facebook had been hacked. Hasbro might have acted in the most stupid manner possible on this issue, but they were in the right. So, the question is, in the ‘crowd controlled world’ we keep forecasting, if there’s enough of a crowd that believes in a certain thing, irrespective of whether its wrong, unethical, does it still get done? Mob Justice, isn’t that the term? It reminds me of India’s democracy, where technically the people rule, but we all know how that’s working. So, if the crowd controls the world, who controls the crowd?
As for me, I’m out of the group help ‘save scrabulous’, and have already started a game with a friend on this new application, Wordscraper, from the makers of Scrabulous. It looks considerably different from Scrabble, but is as enjoyable as the original.
until next time,”with great power comes great responsibility”
PS: Pacman has been there before