New York Times issues takedown notices to protect Wordle

On Behalf of | Mar 28, 2024 | Copyright Law |

Millions of people enjoy games regularly, whether doing their daily crossword puzzles or regular games of Scrabble. Many of these same people have added Wordle to their routine, often posting their results online.

The game gives players six attempts to guess a five-letter word, with feedback provided in the form of colored tiles after each guess to indicate when letters match or occupy the correct position. Created by software engineer Josh Wardle in 2021, the game quickly became popular for its simplicity and the fun challenge of solving a new puzzle daily.

Purchased by the New York Times in 2022 for an undisclosed sum estimated to be in the low seven figures, the game appears online and in the daily newspaper. Its appearance on the Website led to a record quarterly increase in site users. Wordle is now one of the most popular games on the internet.

Times Says C-E-A-S-E

As with many successful games, Wordle copycats or imitations have appeared, including “Heardle” for music and “Queerdle” for words associated with the queer community, and several more in different languages. The Times recently began issuing takedown notices to eliminate clones that it believes infringe on its copyright protections, utilizing DMCA (Digital Millenial Copyright Act) Takedown Notices.

It targeted projects on GitHub and other platforms that replicate Wordle’s distinctive gameplay, layout, and color scheme. The company asserts that it supports the creation of similar word games as long as they do not violate Wordle’s trademarks or gameplay copyrights.

In a statement, a spokesperson said:

“The Times has no issue with individuals creating similar word games that do not infringe [upon] The Times’s ‘Wordle’ trademarks or copyrighted gameplay. The Times took action against a GitHub user and others who shared [Wordle’s] 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.”

In response, some criticized the move by The Times, pointing out that Wordle shares many similarities to the 1980s game Lingo, which also asked players to guess five-letter words with a color grid that changed to indicate the accuracy of the guess.

The Times believes it is in the clear because it claims copyright in the particular expression of the game’s idea and not the mere idea of a five-letter guessing game. This can seem like a very minor distinction for fans of the game or its clones, but the line is still evident.

The Times recently celebrated Wordle’s 1,000th puzzle with a nationwide event, highlighting the game’s enduring appeal and cultural impact.