Tris Plays Its Final Round

Game developers seem to be increasingly busy policing the Web for imitations.

This week, the Tetris Company has persuaded the creator of the iPhone app Tris, which mimicked Tetris, to take down the game. The Tetris Company argues that Tris violates its copyright and trademark rights and, while the developer, who gives his name as Noah Witherspoon, believes he has grounds to defend himself, he can't afford to. "I'm a college student, and not an affluent one, and I simply do not have the time, energy, or resources to fight this battle right now," he wrote on his blog.

He says the game will disappear tomorrow and urges interested users to download it before then. "The approach they're taking seems to me little more than petty bullying. They have little to no legitimate legal claim, and are, presumably, relying on my being a small developer with insufficient resources to defend myself. And -- hey ho -- it appears to be working. All I can suggest is that, if you have the slightest interest in playing Tris, you download it while you still can."

This news comes as Scrabulous has just disappeared from Facebook in all countries except India. While Facebook previously pulled the application in North America, it had survived abroad until this week.

While these apps are disappearing for now, the disputes pose significant unsettled legal questions about the extent to which intellectual property laws actually protect games. Some lawyers hold that board games like Scrabble are generally not copyrightable. But even if that's the case, trademark laws might still endanger Scrabulous, which looks very much like the original. Still, it's fairly easy to get around trademark laws by making some cosmetic changes. In fact, the Scrabulous creators did just that when they launched their new game, Wordscraper.

Legal questions aside, it seems obvious that Scrabulous is the best thing to happen to Scrabble in decades. Before the shutdown, the application drew 500,000 people a day -- some of whom became so enamored of the game that they purchased the physical version. One has to wonder whether Hasbro/Mattel and the Tetris Company have really thought through the ramifications of removing programs that serve to increase the popularity of their games.

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