Mar 14, 2024 - Business

New York Times takes action against hundreds of Wordle clones

Wordle logo displayed on a smartphone with New York Time seen in the background. On 18 September 2023, in Brussels, Belgium.

Wordle logo displayed on a smartphone with New York Time seen in the background. On 18 September 2023, in Brussels, Belgium. Photo illustration: Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The New York Times is cracking down on hundreds of games inspired by Wordle, the hugely popular online word puzzle that it purchased in 2022.

The big picture: The NYT has notified hundreds of people via GitHub about incidents of copyright infringement from "Wordle clone" games since it first contacted the platform that lets developers share code publicly on Jan. 2, a Times spokesperson said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Zoom in: Minneapolis software engineer Chase Wackerfuss, creator of the Reactle clone that enabled programmers to create their own Wordle clones, told NPR Wednesday he and Reactle users had received deletion requests.

  • Wackerfuss said it meant they're losing a community as well as the software, noting "the intention was always to learn and have fun."

What they're saying: "The Times has no issue with individuals creating similar word games that do not infringe The Times's 'Wordle' trademarks or copyrighted gameplay," the NYT spokesperson said. "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," the spokesperson added.
  • "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. GitHub provided the user with an opportunity to alter his code and remove references to Wordle, but he declined."

Zoom out: Some in the media have drawn comparisons between the NYT's Connections game and the long-running British TV quiz show "Only Connect," which prompted host Victoria Coren Mitchell to tweet about similarities between the concepts when it launched last year.

  • "It's a bit rich for the NYT to say other games infringe on the copyright of Wordle when its Connections game just ripped off Only Connect," wrote Australian Associated Press journalist Andrew Brown in a post to X Thursday.
  • The NYT spokesperson said of the comments about Connections that "grouped words is a common theme of games" and called the game's content "unique, handcrafted" with "a distinctive style synonymous with New York Times Games."

By the numbers: The NYT's puzzle and games were played more than 8 billion times last year, per Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick.

  • The NYT Games app was downloaded 10 million times in 2023. Wordle had 4.8 billion plays, and Connections had 2.3 billion.
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