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India Knowledge@Wharton | Scrabble over Scrabulous

India Knowledge@Wharton | Scrabble over Scrabulous
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First Published: Sun, Aug 31 2008. 11 55 PM IST

(Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint)
(Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint)
Updated: Sun, Aug 31 2008. 11 55 PM IST
Scrabble, the board game in which you compete with other players in making words, has become a familiar household name since it was introduced in 1948. Its unofficial online double, Scrabulous, has become one of the most popular applications on social networking site Facebook since it was launched in July 2007.
Now, both games are making waves instead of words as Hasbro, the copyright holder for Scrabble in the US and Canada, has filed a lawsuit against the creators of Scrabulous—Kolkata-based brothers Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla —following which Scrabulous was yanked off Facebook in late July. But in today’s fast-changing social networking environment, Hasbro’s lawsuit and its attempt to control its online image may not be the right move, the Wharton faculty say.
Peter Fader, co-director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, believes Hasbro’s action is an “incredibly bad business decision”. There is no evidence that the Agarwalla brothers were doing “something absolutely disparaging” to the Scrabble brand, he says. In fact, Scrabulous “has been such a fabulously good thing for the Scrabble franchise (that) Hasbro should have been celebrating”.
(Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint)
It is not clear if Hasbro did the right thing by going after Scrabulous, says Kevin Werbach, Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics. “Many copyright owners today are over-inclusive as they try to assert their rights. The question for Hasbro is whether the benefit they get in terms of direct and indirect revenue from their own Scrabble game exceeds the cost of negative publicity from this action. But it certainly got them a black eye in the online community, although most people who play Scrabble have no idea this has happened.”
However, Werbach sees some merit in the arguments favouring copyright owners, too. “If someone had sold a board game called Scrabulous that is just like Scrabble, then people wouldn’t object to the company trying to shut it down as an infringer,” he says. “So fundamentally, I am not sure why this is a different situation.”
According to Fader, many companies sue “just because they think they have the right to instead of pursuing what’s in their shareholders’ best interests.” It is “irrelevant if Hasbro was right or not” in its copyright claims against the backdrop of how Scrabble benefited from Scrabulous, he says. “One is the downside they have created for themselves and the other is a lack of an upside.”
Companies “need to move aside from knee-jerk tendencies to bring in legal action”, he adds, noting that Hasbro had other options besides suing. It could have formed a partnership with the Agarwalla brothers, he says, or bought them out. “It would have been smart to pay (the Agarwalla brothers) millions of dollars. That would have been minuscule compared to legal fees and their own application development expenses... Hasbro may have won the battle but it has surely lost the war.”
Giving Muslim women the confidence to lead
Managing the forces arrayed against them—hostility against Islam in the Western world, resistance to change among Muslims and hostility to the West among Muslim populations—is no easy task for Muslim women in positions of leadership.
As one of the participants in a recent leadership conference noted: “A Muslim woman must prove not just that she is as good or better than a man but as good as a Western woman.”
Michael Useem, director of Wharton’s Centre for Leadership, participated as an instructor in the three-week event which was organized by the Washington, DC-based non-profit Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. “A person who is leading change or transformation sits physically and metaphorically in the old world they are a part of and the new world they are trying to achieve,” he said. “So many of the women (in this programme) live in two worlds.”
The women in the Karamah programme said they face resistance from non-Muslims suspicious of their religious convictions. Aziza Chiutar, a senior executive at a multinational bank in Brussels, wears a headscarf even though in Belgium, as in neighbouring France, public displays of religion—Islam in particular—are viewed negatively. “As a result, many women who wear headscarves end up in jobs where they have no contact with the public, such as call centres,” she says.
But Chiutar’s position as manager of an information technology team at the bank puts her in frequent contact with the outside world. She recalled one meeting with an IT supplier who assumed she must be a secretary. “I explained I was in charge of the team and the meeting started very coldly,” she says. Gradually, however, the supplier warmed to her and “the relationship became normal”.
Saida Saad, a 35-year-old member of a Nigerian opposition party, discussed a problem she faces when working in teams which happen to be predominantly male. “When it is time for tea or lunch every face turns in my direction”, as if she should serve them, she says. Lubna Ismail, president of Connecting Cultures, a Silver Spring, Maryland-based non-profit that provides cross-cultural training for federal government, corporate and other clients, offered Saad some advice: “You as a leader need to speak up about the impact their assumption is having on your role in the team,” she said.
The programme included several days of intensive training in Islamic law so that the women have a strong religious grounding as they attempt to enact change among fellow Muslims. The course also included several sessions on American constitutionalism, in particular, so Muslims from other countries, including European ones, could learn about First Amendment religious freedoms in the US. “If you are morally and religiously empowered, that gives you a different kind of confidence,” explained Azizah al-Hibri, president and founder of Karamah.
Confidence remains a central issue for Muslim women, says al-Hibri. “If you look at a woman and she retreats under your gaze, how will she lead?”
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First Published: Sun, Aug 31 2008. 11 55 PM IST