T-R-O-U-B-L-E could loom for a Scrabble knockoff that has become one of the most popular activities on Facebook.
Hasbro Inc., the company that owns the word game's North American rights, sued the creators of the Scrabulous program on Thursday, less than two weeks after the release of an authorized version of Scrabble for Facebook.
Hasbro said in its lawsuit that Scrabulous violates its copyright and trademarks. Separately, Hasbro asked Facebook to block the game.
In the year since Facebook began letting outside developers write Web programs that Facebook members can plug into their personal profile pages, Scrabulous has attracted some half-million daily users, despite efforts by Scrabble's owners to end it.
Video game maker Electronic Arts Inc. released an official version for American and Canadian Facebook users last week as part of a broader, year-old licensing deal with Hasbro, yet Facebook users have continued to spend countless hours on the unauthorized Scrabulous.
Now, Hasbro is trying to stop Scrabulous completely and collect unspecified damages.
Mark Blecher, general manager for digital media and gaming at Hasbro, said the Pawtucket, R.I.-based company waited until Thursday to file a lawsuit to ensure that Scrabble fans had a legal option first.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, named as defendants Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla, the brothers in Calcutta, India, who created the program, along with their Web design and technology company, RJ Softwares.
The Agarwallas did not immediately respond to an e-mail request for comment made after business hours in India. A 24-hour number for RJ Softwares went unanswered Thursday.
Facebook, which was not named as a defendant, refused to immediately block the application, pending a response from Scrabulous' creators.
"Over the past year, Facebook has tried to use its status as neutral platform provider to help the parties come to an amicable agreement," the company said in a statement. "We're disappointed that Hasbro has sought to draw us into their dispute."
By waiting, Facebook risks losing immunity protection from copyright lawsuits. Under federal law, service providers are generally exempt for their users' actions — at least until they become aware of a specific infringement.
Earlier, Jayant Agarwalla said he was looking forward to competing with the official version, suggesting that Electronic Arts would have a tough time attracting "the attention and patronage of a large and dedicated user base," as Scrabulous has done.
Blecher said that rather than blame Hasbro for trying to block a popular game, "the fans of Scrabble will appreciate an authentic version."
Both games are free.
Mattel Inc. owns Scrabble rights outside the United States and Canada and did not join the lawsuit. It has a deal with RealNetworks Inc. to make a legal version available in other markets.