Scrabulous, a virtual knockoff of the board game Scrabble, has become one of the most popular Facebook games. According to the New York Times, the makers of Scrabble have denounced Scrabulous as piracy and are threatening legal action against its creators. Scrabulous fans are crying foul:
The threat of legal action has not gained the companies many admirers. Many Scrabulous fans, some of whom say they bought the board game for the first time after playing the online version on Facebook, call their approach heavy-handed and out of touch. . . .
“If you’re Hasbro or Mattel, it isn’t in your interest to shut this down,” said Matt Mason, a consultant to the entertainment industry and author of “The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism.”
The board game industry will be forced to adapt, Mr. Mason predicts, just as the music industry has adjusted to unauthorized downloads of songs. “If something’s already out there and proven, the companies should go with it,” he said.
In other words, you should not try to defend yourself from those stealing your intellectual property–that would be “heavy-handed” and “out of touch.” Instead, you should “go with it.” And how should Mattel and Hasbro “go with it”? Perhaps they should get with the times and invest their wealth in creating their own online version. Oh, wait. That’s precisely what they were doing:
Two game companies, RealNetworks of Seattle and Electronic Arts of Redwood City, Calif., say they have signed deals with Hasbro to create online versions of the company’s games. Both say their versions of Scrabble will be out shortly.
What could possibly justify erasing the years of effort and investment these companies have put into creating an authorized electronic version of Scrabble? What would possibly justify trampling on the intellectual property rights of Mattal and Hasbro in order to allow some cheap petty imitators to reap $25,000 a month from advertising linked to their pirated “creation”? The New York Times article makes that very clear: the fact that people enjoy the game:
Other groups devoted to saving the game have recently been created on Facebook, including “Please God, I Have So Little: Don’t Take Scrabulous Too.” Tens of thousands of fans have joined in, threatening to boycott Hasbro and Mattel products.
If this does not strike you as a vicious injustice, project it into a different field. An author pours years of his life into writing his magnum opus. He finds a publisher. His books hit the shelf–and it begins to sell. The author basks in the knowledge that he will be able to reap the rewards of his effort. But then a reader decides that he wants his friends to be able to read the book for free, so he posts it online. Millions flock to the site, and this gentleman is able to reap $25,000 a month in advertising for his magnificent ability to cut and paste. The author threatens legal action to protect his rights to his work, but his readers do not support him– they condemn and denounce him. Precisely because his work means so much to them, they should have a right to read it for free, and if he denies them that right, he is a monster whose works must be boycotted.
The attack on intellectual property rights is a manifestation of the broader war on property rights. A group of people are using a value that does not belong to them–against its owner’s will–simply because they desire it and cannot be stopped. When a theft like this occurs, the law should step in and defend the victim, and we as a culture should applaud its doing so.