31 July 2008

Should Scrabulous go to WTO? (And who cares, when it has become the Napster of Facebook?)

Oh, Calcutta!
That was the name of a controversial play involving nudity in the 1970s. The current controversy over the brothers from Kolkata, Rajat and Jayant Agarwala, reminded me of the last time when the West majorly engaged with the now-renamed city.
We have headlines all over that the brothers, on a request from social networking site Facebook, have pulled off their popular word-game Scrabulous following a lawsuit from Hasbro, which owns the official Scrabble game. The brothers have responded with their own version of the game called Wordscraper as this story from Reuters says.
Details of all this apart, two points I wish to make:
The game has been pulled in US and Canada, but does Scrabble enjoy worldwide rights over the game? Should this go to WTO as well? I had remarked some days ago that the Google-Yahoo war over search should go to the World Trade Organisation, because US regulation and anti-competition laws are not adequate or relevant in a larger emerging context.
That brings me to Point Two. Napster started the business of file-swapping, and died a death, more or less. But not before it legitimised the legal transport of MP3 music and on-line sale of songs, as opposed to albums or CDs. Apple's iTunes today owes its existence in a sense to Napster.
Likewise, creative destruction is playing out on the Net in a similar environment. Hasbro will realise that it cannot overprice Scrabble or stick to an old distribution formula. Patents and trademarks will work up to a point. After that, the Net is about freedom.
What is stopping someone from starting a Facebook group called "Out with Scrabble, in with Wordscraper?"

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