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C-e-a-s-e and desist: 'The New York Times' goes after Wordle spinoffs

In this photo illustration, the word game Wordle is shown on a mobile phone on Jan. 12, 2022, in Houston, Texas.
Brandon Bell
Getty Images
In this photo illustration, the word game Wordle is shown on a mobile phone on Jan. 12, 2022, in Houston, Texas.

The New York Times has sent takedown notices to "hundreds" of coders who've made clones of the popular word game, Wordle.

Wordle is a hit online sensation where players have to guess a five-letter word in six tries. Since the newspaper bought it in 2022 from creator Welsh software engineer Josh Wardle, the word game has spawned a litany of spinoffs, from the more complex Quordle to the irreverent Sweardle.

Now, the Times is accusing some Wordle clone creators of copyright infringement violations and asking that their code be removed from the website GitHub, a platform that lets developers publicly share their code. The news was first reported last week by 404 Media.

The Times has filed at least three Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests since January with coders on GitHub over allegations related to Wordle, 404 Media reported. The law allows copyright holders to request that any material infringing on their copyright be removed from the internet, according to the Copyright Alliance.

One of those takedown requests went to Minneapolis software engineer Chase Wackerfuss, who created a clone called Reactle. Programmers could use Reactle's code repositorythe website's term for where code and other files are storedto create Wordle spinoffs of their own.

The notice requested that Reactle's code repository as well as any repository created by a coder who used Reactle's code — or "forked" it — be deleted.

Times spokesperson Jordan Cohen said "hundreds of people" were notified via GitHub, and issued the following statement:

According to the takedown request posted by 404 Media, the Gray Lady argued that some of those copyrighted elements include Wordle's green and yellow tiles indicating correct letter guesses as well as its 5x6 grid.

Reactle's creator Wackerfuss told NPR in a statement that he removed its repository from GitHub after receiving the takedown notice from the Times, and that his heart went out to the developers who had used Reactle to create word games of their own.

"Over the last two years, thousands of people have helped contribute, either directly or indirectly, to Reactle. Whether their motivation was to learn software engineering, contribute their skills to improving the project, or fork the code and build a game, the intention was always to learn and have fun," Wackerfuss said.

"It's just a shame we're losing this software and the community around it."

The Times said in a May 2022 press release of its financial results that Wordle had enticed "an unprecedented tens of millions of new users" to the outlet and it had had its "best quarter ever for net subscriber additions to Games."

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