New York Times launches copyright crackdown on Wordle clones

Wordle was a runaway hit word-deducing game on the web, so popular that The New York Times bought it outright and moved it to its website. A couple of years in, though, and it's launching a crackdown on clones and games too similar for its lawyers' comfort. The copyright threats have gone out, reports 404 Media, to hundreds of targets—and the claims are extremely broad.

it asserts not just ownership over the Wordle name but over the broad concepts and mechanics of the word game, which includes its "5×6 grid" and "green tiles to indicate correct guesses."

The Times filed at least three DMCA takedown requests with coders who have made clones of Wordle on GitHub. These include two in January and, crucially, a new DMCA filed this week against Chase Wackerfuss, the coder of a repository called "Reactle," which cloned Wordle in React JS (JavaScript). (The full takedown is embedded at the bottom of this article.)

The most recent takedown request is critical because it not only goes after Reactle but anyone who has forked Reactle to create a different spinoff game; an archive of the Reactle code repository shows that it was forked 1,900 times to create a diverse set of games and spinoffs. These include Wordle clones in dozens of languages, crossword versions of Wordle, emoji and bird versions of world, poker and AI spinoffs, etc.

Games rules are not copyrightable, but fighting lawsuits is expensive. Notwithstanding targets that really are just ripoffs of Wordle's name, look and such—its copyrightable expressive elements—a cool response to this would be to create (or identify, if it already exists) an open-source implementation of the rules that carefully avoids them.

(My Amstrad CPC implementation is beyond their power to control, because I never posted it online.)

Previously: The optimal words to start a game of Wordle