Admit it, you’ve already solved today’s wordle, right?!
Around the world people have been buying into the Wordle phenomenon. For those not playing along at home, Wordle is a five letter word guessing game, which in itself is not a new concept. However, Wordle has attracted mass appeal due to the ability to share the game grids on social media showing how you did without sharing the answer (boasting rights!), scarcity as there is only one game a day (no binging here), a limit of six attempts and the simple game play. Wordle is also presented through a web browser meaning you don’t have to download yet another app onto your phone.
Wherever there is success, there is copying, and out of Wordle we have seen numerous copycat games appear including Quordle where you need to solve four, five letter word puzzles at the same time and Lewdle which uses the same game play as Wordle but allows only lewd words.
With such ‘copycat’ versions appearing, the question arises as to whether these alternate versions are infringing intellectual property rights, or a legal form of flattery?
Wordle is not registered as a trade mark in Australia, however the New York Times has, as of 1 February 2022, applied for a trade mark with the USPTO. The New York Times, as the new owner of Wordle, may be able to use its trade mark protection to prevent others from using the same or a similar mark to promote other guessing games. Whether it will seek protection internationally is yet to be seen.
Copyright protects the particular form that something takes, not the idea itself. The idea of a five letter word guessing game is not new, so others could legitimately use the same idea but present it in a different way.
Given that Wordle is accessed through a webpage, there would be underlying code which would be the subject of copyright, however that protects the code itself and not the functionality. Another website providing the same functionality based on code written without any reference to the Wordle code would not be infringing copyright.
Given the basic idea behind the game isn’t new, there isn’t much that the law can do to stop other five letter word guessing games from appearing. While imitators who sail too close to the wind might find themselves in legal difficulties, it seems that IP law is unlikely to stop the proliferation of Wordle inspired guessing games.