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Facebook's Scrabble Knockoff Gets New Name, New Rules

Scrabulous is back on Facebook, but now it has a new name, new rules and circular tiles that could help its makers skirt legal claims from the owners of Scrabble.

The return came less than two days after the creators of Scrabulous blocked their popular version of the word game from U.S. and Canadian users of Facebook, the online hangout.

The Indian brothers behind Scrabulous had gotten sued in federal court by Hasbro Inc., the owner of Scrabble's North American rights.

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Now, the game has reappeared with the name Wordscraper. The change could help it avoid any brand confusion with Scrabble, a key point in trademark disputes.

The game itself has also changed. Instead of Scrabble-like square tiles, for instance, Wordscraper has circles.

The tiles earning double and triple points have been rearranged, and tiles for quadruple points have been added.

Whether those design changes will protect the creators from claims of copyright infringement remains to be seen.

Ideas cannot be copyrighted, but expressions of ideas can. The case could turn on whether Wordscraper feels more like Scrabble or a generic board game based on words.

"It's going to come down to the little things like squares and circles and double, triple and so on," said Ethan Horwitz, an intellectual-property lawyer at King and Spalding in New York. "What they've done is taking a step in the right direction, but I don't think it's a big enough step."

Furthermore, Wordscraper lets users design custom boards, including versions that happen to resemble Scrabble. In such cases, Wordscraper might claim federal protections from liability for their users' actions.

In a statement, Hasbro said it "will evaluate every situation individually and take actions as appropriate."

Word of the rechristened game started spreading through blogs late Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon thousands of Facebook users already had added the application.

Still, that's nowhere near the half-million or so daily users that Scrabulous had been enjoying.

Last week, Hasbro sued Scrabulous creators Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla of Calcutta, India, in U.S. District Court in New York, claiming copyright and trademark infringement.

The lawsuit followed video game maker Electronic Arts Inc.'s release of an official version of Scrabble for American and Canadian Facebook users under a broad licensing deal with Hasbro.

That official Scrabble, still in a "beta" test mode, hasn't been as popular.

Separately, Hasbro asked Facebook to block Scrabulous, something the site resisted despite risks of losing immunity protection from copyright lawsuits.

The Agarwallas agreed to suspend Scrabulous on Facebook in the United States and Canada in deference to the social-networking site, though the game has remained available at Scrabulous.com.