When is a complement still theft?

Most Facebook users have probably heard of the Facebook application that allows you to play scrabble. It has rapidly become one of the most popular and regularly used applications on the social network. Unfortunately, the developers did not seek or get permission to replicate the game from its owners.

As a consequence, they have recently been issued with "take-down" notices from the toy companies who are asserting their ownership rights.

There has been much debate both in the mainstream press and in the blogosphere about why the companies that do own these rights are being near-sighted in closing the application down given the enormously positive benefits the Facebook version has generated in terms of re-popularising the game.

Whilst confessing that I have generally been someone that manages work programmes by forgiveness than permission and acknowledging that the two developers would have found getting permission upfront from the toy companies an impossible tasks because of a) the corporate bureaucracy they would have faced b) the huge credibility issue of being a non-corporate dealing with a multi-national and hence not taken seriously, it is patently clear that these developers have profited from copying an established game.

For the owners to have allowed such blatantly copying to persist would have been negligent on their part eg they already licenced electronic rights to the game to someone, who should reasonably expect them to protect the rights for which they have paid.

That they have sought to force the developers to give up their "innovation" for a pittance or on "harsh" terms is judged by many as being unfair. Yet, how else are they to set an example of "don't stray onto our property". That this may be a wake-up call to these companies and that they perhaps should engage with such developers to extend their offline offerings is unquestioned, but the alleged complement of copying the scrabble game is still theft of intellectual property.

UPDATE : Someone kindly reminded me via IM that the Scrabulous logo includes a trademark sign - obviously the developers were concerned about other passing off their good name and idea elsewhere. As if anyone would indulge in such practices.

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posted by John Wilson @ 8:59 AM Permanent Link newsvine reddit



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