New York Times launches copyright crackdown on Wordle clones

Originally published at:


Glad to see the NYT has their priorities straight.


If there’s some lawyer somewhere willing to take this pro bono, it will not end well for the NYT. Wordle itself, at least the rules, aren’t that original. It’s very similar to Jotto and a tv game show called Lingo. They can own a trademark on the name, and possibly on derivatives like squardle, but, as this post correctly notes, the mechanics and rules of a game are not copyrightable. A rules book can be copyrighted, just like any kind of book or publication, but that only protects that expression of the rules, not the underlying rules themselves. This is massive overreach by the NYT. I hope someone pushes back.




Jotto is a much more directly similar game. As in, it really is just a pen and paper version of Wordle. Or, more accurately, Wordle is a digital version of Jotto. It’s the same game.



It’s no use, I couldn’t solve today’s puzzle.


Ok, after reading one of the actual letters from the NYT’s lawyers, I think the copyright claim is based on copying a specific puzzle, not just the rules. While the rules of a puzzle game are not copyrightable, a single instance of a puzzle is. For example, today’s NYT crossword puzzle is copyrighted. Each day’s puzzle is copyrighted. If someone were to reproduce that exact puzzle on another website and make it freely available, that would be a copyright violation. I think some of these cloners might be cloning not just the game of Wordle and its rules, but the specific word each day. If that’s what this is about, then a DMCA takedown notice is appropriate. In other words, these aren’t just derivations of Wordle, like Squardle and Octordle (I think that’s one?), but actual exact clones of Wordle. Including using the name Wordle. Someone doing that, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for.


Using the name is a trademark violation. Not something that the DMCA is designed to mitigate.

Using the same word is just hey, that’s a word in a word game. Can not be copyrighted.

Actual code to make the game run? That’s a copyright violation.

Rules of a game? Not copyrightable - like a recipe.

Specific crosswords are copyrightable - that’s a design. But it’s different from a single word.

Anyway - my understanding is different from yours and that’s okay. You made some good points and I’m just expanding on it. I could be wrong. I often am.


I didn’t say the word was copyrighted. I said that day’s puzzle was copyrighted. The thing is, these clones in question apparently cloned everything. The look of the tiles, everything. And the word. I am aware of how copyright law works and how it differs from trademark law. I’m not a lawyer yet, but I do have a JD and will hopefully be a lawyer just as soon as I pass the bar. The copyright claim is weak, but they made it through a DMCA takedown notice, not by filing an actual copyright infringement suit. The DMCA sucks, and is way too friendly to people who file takedown notices. Basically, any notice will be assumed to be true by the company who receives the notice (I think it may have been github in this one I was reading?), and then the alleged offender can appeal through whatever appeals process that company has. But usually these companies take a better safe than sorry stance, and rule in favor of whoever filed the takedown notice. It’s less risky for them. In that situation, it really becomes irrelevant whether or not the copyright infringement accusation was correct. Whatever company was hosting the content is not under any obligation to put the content back up. The DMCA does have some provisions for discouraging abuse of the system, but they’re pretty weak. Regardless, if these were direct exact clones, rather than derivative games, I’m not that sympathetic. Now, the DMCA is hot garbage and has caused more problems than it has fixed, and we need to scrap it and start over, but that’s a bigger issue.


Does that mean it’s the end of the line for Squirdle?

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Right, I didn’t think you said the word was copyrighted. But that the starting word being what it is makes the puzzle somehow unique and copyrightable. I got that. My point here is that it’s just a word. There is nothing else to the puzzle but rules. Guess this 5 letter word… and today it’s GHOST. That’s all the puzzle is. Just one word. I don’t think that word is copyrightable and I know you didn’t say it was.

If another similar game uses GHOST as its starting word… that’s not actionable, IMO.

The difficulty is that there is relatively little caselaw on the idea/expression divide. And it feels like the courts are often willing to bend copyright protection to provide patent-like protection on the cheap. That certainly seems to be the case with software.


One Wordle to rule them all… One Wordle to find them… One Wordle to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

As for me, I prefer Quordle.


Quordle is good but the occasional Britishism trips me up.

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Quardle is fun. I also like this one -

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Looks good! I might need to work my way up to this one.

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I like Redactle myself

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Great to see they are dealing with the important stuff rather than trifles like hiring an Israeli spy with no reporting experience to fabricate a story of mass rape and when it’s exposed going after the leakers.
Fuck you very much NYT.


Well, not quite. In Jotto you’re never told which letters are right and, in most versions, you’re not even told if any are in the right place. In the standard version you are just told a single number, representing the number of letters that are also in the target word, irrespective of position.

So in some ways it’s harder even than Mastermind, because at least in Mastermind you’re told how many pegs are in the right location, even if you don’t know which they are. But on the other hand, in Jotto you have to use a real word, which makes it easier than Mastermind.

Anyway, it’s a fun game too. I used to play it with my mom on long plane rides.

Oh, that was pretty fun. I like being about to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks where. That said, clearly I did too much of that, because I didn’t solve them all in time, even though by the end the three remaining could each only be one word. I’ll have to work out the actual pacing.

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good luck with that.
You can’t copyright gameplay.
Hence the innumerable Monopoly knockoffs