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If it looks or seems like Wordle, the Times is taking legal action against it.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

March 8, 2024

2 Min Read
Screenshot of the guessing game Wordle.
Image via the New York Times.

At a Glance

  • Wordle players just want to play it in their own ways, but the New York Times considers that copyright infringement.

Per 404 Media, the New York Times is cracking down on anything that could be considered infringing on Wordle.

The prestigious outlet has issued multiple DMCA takedowns against potential clones or Wordle-alikes since January. If it had a 5x6 grid and marks correct guesses with green tiles, the Times wants to shut it down.

Wordle was acquired by the Times in 2022 after it'd taken off as a browser-based game weeks after its popularity surge. There've been variants since then, though not all of them have hit the same highs as the original.

Per 404, a DMCA takedown was filed earlier this week against one such clone called Reactle. Created by Chase Wackerfuss, that title has itself been forked (or shared/itered on) 1,900 times to create its own spinoffs and offshoots.

These clones include Wordle in various non-English languages, crossword and emoji-based versions, and even variants that run on AI or play like poker.

Wordle's community just wants to play it on their own terms

For Reactle, the Times claimed it "instructs users how to infringe [our] copyright...and create knock-offs." The DMCA request notes "hundreds of [users]" have published their own knock-offs, either from Github or of their own design.

Wackerfuss, for his part, argues he'd been making Reactle before the Times even bought Wordle. The friend he was making it with effectively gave everything to him, as she was afraid of the outlet's potential legal retaliation.

He further explained how Wordle is effectively "like Tetris or a deck of cards: It’s such a simple premise. [...] I’m not sure why they feel like we’re encroaching on their IP."

Other users have pushed back on the DMCAs, pointing out how Wordle isn't offered in other languages or regions. Another argued their clone just has "chunk" as the daily answer.

One developer plainly told 404 the outlet was just "putting the fear of God in everyone.”

The New York Times defended its choice, saying it has "no issues" with those who make non-infringing work. Its DMCA was targeted against specific Github users sharing Wordle code, but those in the community aren't having it.

"Wordle is such a nice game, and seeing NYT behave like that summarizes a lot of what’s wrong with capitalism," said Júda Ronén, keeper of the "Wordles of the World" website. "This is a clear case of misuse of power."

404's full report can be read here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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