The New York Times is targeting Wordle clones with legal takedowns

A person plays Wordle on their smartphone at the kitchen table of their home on November 26th, 2023, in Birmingham, United Kingdom
Some developers have already taken down their Wordle clones to avoid a legal battle with The New York Times. | Photo by Mike Kemp / In Pictures via Getty Images

Hundreds of games inspired by Wordle, the popular web-based word puzzle, are at risk of being deleted due to copyright takedowns issued by The New York Times. As reported by 404 Media, The New York Times — which purchased Wordle back in 2022 — has filed several DMCA notices over Wordle clones created by GitHub coders, citing its ownership over the Wordle name and copyrighted gameplay including 5×6 tile layout and gray, yellow, and green color scheme.

Two takedown requests were issued in January against unofficial Korean and Bosnian-language versions of the game. Additional requests were filed this week against Wirdle — a variant created by dialect group I Hear Dee in 2022 to promote the Shaetlan language — and Reactle, an open-source Wordle clone built using React, TypeScript, and Tailwind. It was developed prior to the Times’ purchase of the game, according to its developer, Chase Wackerfuss.

The Reactle code has been copied around 1,900 times, according to GitHub, allowing developers to build upon it to create a wide variety of Wordle-inspired games that use different languages, themes, and visual styles, some of which 404 Media says are “substantially different” from Wordle. The DMCA notice against Reactle also targets all of these games forked from the original Reactle code on GitHub, alleging that spinoffs containing the Wordle name have been made in “bad faith” and that “gameplay is copied exactly” in the Reactle repository. Numerous developers commenting on a Hacker News thread also claim to have been targeted with DMCA takedowns.

Reactle coder Wackerfuss has removed the game, telling 404 Media he doesn’t want to get into a legal battle with the Times.

In a statement to 404 Media, the Times said:

The Times has no issue with individuals creating similar word games that do not infringe The Times’s “Wordle” trademarks or copyrighted gameplay. The Times took action against a GitHub user and others who shared his code to defend its intellectual property rights in Wordle. The user created a “Wordle clone” project that instructed others how to create a knock-off version of The Times’s Wordle game featuring many of the same copyrighted elements. As a result, hundreds of websites began popping up with knock-off “Wordle” games that used The Times’s “Wordle” trademark and copyrighted gameplay without authorization or permission.

Amusingly, Wordle has itself been criticized over striking similarities it shares with Lingo, a 1980s game show that centered on players guessing five-letter words, with a grid that changes color based on accuracy.