What's going on with WhatFreeWords?

WhatFreeWords is an open-source, compatible implementation of the What3Words geocoding algorithm. The What3Words company does not like it. Our website is currently removed from the internet.


The WhatFreeWords team worked for a bit more than a week reverse-engineering the What3Words algorithm. Once we found out how it worked, we coded implementations for it for JavaScript and Go.

To ensure that we did not violate the What3Words company's copyright, we did not include any of their code, and we only included the bare minimum data required for interoperability.


On September 15th we put a website up at whatfreewords.org and posted it to news.ycombinator.com.

After this got to the front page of news.ycombinator.com the What3Words company sent a DMCA takedown notice to our hosting provider.

User Anonymaps on Twitter posted a conspiracy theory that WhatFreeWords was a cunning marketing ploy by the What3Words company, as a way to increase developer mindshare without actually open-sourcing their product. That was very funny, and something that we hadn't considered. The theory is false, but it is impossible to disprove it.

The initial DMCA takedown notice was not of the correct form, and so our hosting provider rejected it. The What3Words company lawyers then sent a DMCA takedown notice that was of the correct form, and so our hosting provider has to follow the DMCA process and ensure the website is removed until we file a DMCA counter-notice. The DMCA has an exception for when data is included purely for interoperability purposes, but a DMCA counter-notice is difficult and expensive to create, and it is impossible to do without deanonymising yourself, so this process is a non-starter for us. The hosting provider did a good job of putting the customer first, but they are also in the US so they have to follow the DMCA process.

Python version

At some point before the site was taken down, an anonymous user submitted to us a Python version. We are most grateful for this gift and we put it up on the website.


In response to the conspiracy theory posted by Anonymaps, Iván Sánchez put a copy of the site up at whatfreewords.com, but with all of the text changed from being positive about What3Words to being negative. The thinking was that if whatfreewords.org was really a conspiracy by What3Words, then they would be likely to treat the two sites differently.

The reason for the positive wording on the whatfreewords.org site was an attempt to peacefully coexist with the What3Words company, but it did not work. When everything has settled down we will probably use more negative wording, like the one written by Iván.

Iván's site was hosted in the EU which means the DMCA does not apply, but the What3Words lawyers sent a comparable notice to the EU hosting company, and the whatfreewords.com site also got taken down. Of course, this does nothing to disprove the conspiracy theory, because it is impossible to disprove a conspiracy theory.

Interestingly Iván did not include the live demo map on whatfreewords.com, and yet the takedown notice sent to the EU hosting company included screenshots of the live demo map, with the claim that Iván's site was hosting it. This is a barefaced lie by the What3Words lawyers, but that didn't matter. The takedown notice was enough to bully the hosting company into taking the site down anyway.

New hosting

Next we started hosting whatfreewords.org at a free hosting provider in the EU. This didn't last for very long at all. The free hosting provider received an EU takedown notice similar to the one that Iván's hosting provider received, and the whatfreewords.org site was once again removed from the internet.

Onion services

A good way to host the site would be to put it on a Tor onion service. That would mean that there would be nobody to send DMCA notices to, but it would also mean that visitors to the site would need to be using Tor. If you know how to help set this up please get in touch.

WIPO dispute

The What3Words lawyers have filed a dispute with WIPO over the domain name whatfreewords.org, among others, claiming that it is close enough to their trademark that they should have control over it. We do not know how to submit any counter-dispute to this, it looks like the process is designed to involve the claimant only and not the domain owner.


We are now in the procedure of setting up new hosting, but the WIPO dispute on the domain name has resulted in the domain registrar to lock the domain name, which makes this hard.

If you can help in any way or otherwise want to contact us please email whatfreewords@airmail.cc. All help appreciated. Please share and distribute widely.