Nearly 2,000 Wordle clones targeted as NYT issues DMCA takedown

When Josh Wardle’s daily puzzle game Wordle arrived in 2021 it spawned two crazes: millions of people loved playing Wordle, and thousands of developers loved making games like Wordle. Variations quickly popped up like Nerdle (Wordle for math), Worldle (Wordle for geography), Heardle (Wordle for music), and even Taylordle (Wordle for Taylor Swift fans). 

Along with lots of clever takes on the Wordle formula, there are plenty of Wordle-alikes that are pretty much just clones, offering up a nearly identical Wordle experience without variation (like Infinite Wordle, which is just a version of Wordle you can play more than once a day). The New York Times, who purchased Wordle from Wardle in 2022, is currently cracking down on a bunch of them.

As reported by Jason Koebler at 404, The New York Times has filed a DMCA notice against coder Chase Wackerfuss, who created a Wordle clone called Reactle and posted the code on GitHub. Where this begins to snowball is that the DMCA notice isn’t just aimed at Reactle, but at all the Wordle clones that have “forked” off the open source Reactle repository—and the number of forks is a whopping 1,900 or so.

That’s a lot of games to be covered in a single DMCA notice. It apparently even includes a clone where the answer to every single puzzle, every day, is always CHUNK.

Got a DMCA takedown notice for my github repo that’s a wordle clone except every day the word is just “chunk”March 6, 2024

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“The Times’s Wordle copyright includes the unique elements of its immensely popular game, such as the 5×6 grid, green tiles to indicate correct guesses, yellow tiles to indicate the correct letter but the wrong place within the word, and the keyboard directly beneath the grid,” the DMCA notice reads. “This gameplay is copied exactly in the repository, and the owner instructs others how to knock off the game and create an identical word game.

“I have reviewed dozens of the forked repositories,” the DMCA notice continues. “Based on the representative number of forks I have reviewed, I believe that all or most of the forks are infringing to the same extent as the parent repository.”

This isn’t the first time the NYT has taken aim at Wordle clones. It murdered a pair of Wordle archive sites in 2022, which let users play previous Wordle puzzles, and according to 404, two additional GitHub repositories were DMCA’d in January.

“To me, Wordle is like Tetris or a deck of cards. It’s such a simple premise,” Wackerfuss told 404, and pointing to variations on the formula like the Taylor Swift version, said: “I’m not sure why they feel like we’re encroaching on their IP.”

He still complied with the DMCA notice. “GitHub messaged me and I was just like, you know what, fuck this,” Wackerfuss said. “I’m not going to get into a legal battle with The New York Times, so it wasn’t worth it to me and I just removed the game.” 

You can read the full story at 404.

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