Apple Booted the Wordle Copycat Apps, but More Will Come

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on Tuesday afternoon, Searching for “wordl” on the iOS App Store Launched a handful of apps Simple word game name and imitating gameplay in which went viral in recent weeks, But none of those iOS apps were created by Brooklyn-based software engineer Josh Wardle. Made the free web-based game last October,

All those copycat apps are now gone, the obvious result of a few post-purse of late by App Store reviewers. social media attention, But that doesn’t mean the end of the Wordle clone. Those quick takedown papers on the complex legal and social landscape surrounding copycat apps and security developers can lay claim to their game ideas.

Who is the owner of ‘Wordle’?

To start, it’s important to note that while the original five-letter guessing game embedded in Wordle is not a completely original idea in itself. The same basic gameplay was popularized by Lingo, a game show that US Dates in the ’80s and other countries. Joto, a two-player pen-and-paper game that goes back to 1955, will be very familiar to Wordle players as well. Prior to this, a more traditional version of the game called Bulls and Cows has been played since the 19th century, according to at least one source,

Conveniently, none of this history presents a legal problem for Wordle itself. “Whenever you have a copyright, you are protecting the expression, not the idea,” Dallas attorney Mark Metenitis told Ars. “It’s a line that a lot of people have a very hard time with, especially when you’re involved in sports.”

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In other words, it’s very hard to copyright an abstract game mechanic like “guessing five-letter words and giving hints based on the correct letters.” A game developer can file for patent on an original gaming idea, a legal process that has been used Press Video game clone last. But obtaining a patent is a long and arduous process that can fall apart if there is “prior art” before the idea (or if the mechanic can be legally considered “explicit”).

a trademark free-for-all

Unlike a copyright or a patent, a trademark can at least legally protect the Wordley name from exploitation by copycats. But unlike copyright, which automatically applies when a work is published, trademarks offer very limited protection unless they are registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

a quick search On the USPTO website Shows two former icons for software called “wordl”, one from 2010 and one from 2013. These two were dropped shortly after their original filing, but Wardley has apparently not filed for his trademark on his suddenly popular name.

This has left the “Verdal” trademark on hold legally, a position that has been exploited by a company called Monkey Labs Inc. On January 7, that organization filed its own trademark application for “Wordle”, claiming ownership of the name for “downloadable computer application software for social networking, that is, the field of electronic gaming via the Internet.” to post, show or display information in”. , that is, software for playing word puzzle games.”

that trademark may be grounds for cancellation for commercial misrepresentation 1947 Lanham ActBut any such legal argument can be an uphill battle. This is especially true as other games and apps used the name prior to the creation of Wardle. There are currently three games on the iOS App Store—Wordle!, Wordle , Word Puzzle, and Wordles—which predate Wardle Edition by years. While none of these bear any mechanical resemblance to current viral hits, they have as much a claim to the historical use of the name “Verdal” as any.

attack of clones

Trademarks aside, the copyright laws that protect Wordle help protect anyone who wants to create their own version of the same basic idea. This means there is not much the law can do to prevent other five-letter guessing games from existing. Ars Technica readers may remember a similar iOS clone explosion that Faced with the likes of Vlambeer’s Radical Fishing and Super Crate Boy, As well as Jehovah Chainso fl0w, spree fox triple town, And countless others,

but while Idea Much of Wordle is not legally protected, typical of the game Expression of that idea. So a clone that copied the user interface, layout, and other design elements of Wardle’s version could still fall under the law. Back in 2012, the Tetris company used this logic. close a particularly thumping tetris clone on app store,

A similar copyright claim may apply to “Wordle – The App”, an iOS clone that directly mimics the look and feel of Wardle’s Wordle. This is true, even though the iOS version includes features like different word length options and multiple daily plays. The creator of the clone, Zach Shuck, was especially shameless about in the crowd on twitter sudden success of its iOS version, which received Hundreds of trial subscriptions $30/year of games for the “Unlimited Games” option.

Notoriety struck after Shaked’s clone Tuesday Nights Being Highlighted by Andy Bao, due to which Shaq briefly protected his tweet. However, overnight, after the game was removed from the App Store, Shakked posted a thread saying he “feels”[d] I crossed a line. And I certainly, certainly will never do anything remotely near it again. I messed up.”

At the same time, however, Shaked explicitly wrote that “Word is a ripoff of another game” and that “Word is not a trademark, and there are a bunch of other unrelated Word apps named the same thing.” Shakeed also claimed that he was “already working on an update with a different UI” that could have helped mitigate any copyright claims.

Too Many Bites at Apple

Beyond any legal reality, there are definite ethical, reputational and even social issues with shamelessly cloning a popular game idea. Apple tries to provide some protection against these problems by using its App Store guidelines to prevent the spread of game clones on the iOS App Store. mixed success In Practice, Section 4.1 of those guidelines Specifically calls out “copycats,” directly asking developers to “come up with your own ideas. We know you have them, so bring that to your life. Copy the latest popular app on the App Store” Don’t do or make some minor changes. to another app’s name or UI and pass it as yours.”

That “on the App Store” clause provides an interesting wrinkle in Wordley’s case, however, because the game was built within Apple’s walled garden as a web app without an official, native App Store version. as Nerdshala tellsOf course, it appears that the App Store has left a loophole for developers to exploit:

Wordle is facing a threat we haven’t seen in play yet: The game’s developer is essentially being penalized by the App Store for choosing to use open web technologies instead of the native app. Is. Not only is this type of behavior allowed by the Apple App Store, there’s little recourse—because Wordle doesn’t exist, as far as Apple is concerned, because it wasn’t made. [as] A native app.

Developers of a fully functional, capable web app like Wordle have no way of claiming their name in the App Store, nor do they have their website listed to get users in the right places and protect themselves from copycats. is there any way to do it.

In Wordley’s case, the loophole seems to have been closed. Apple confirmed that it has removed copycat apps from the Store, but declined further comment. Even after purging, however, an iOS game called PuzzWord-Who is earlier Wordle over the years but Has very similar gameplay and design—also available at the time of this writing [Update: The original version of this piece misstated PuzzWord‘s age],

Which brings us back to the original problem. Despite the recent success of Wordle, the basic idea behind the game is very old—and also very difficult to protect under US law. As long as that is the case, Wordal clones are probably inevitable, for better or worse.

This story originally appeared on Ars Technica,

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