March 04, 2009 1:10

Copyright on chess moves - shadows on the wall?

Copyright on chess moves - shadows on the wall?Last week, ChessBase was apparently 'forced to cease Internet broadcasting of the Topalov-Kamsky match'. As we noted in our report on the first match game, live broadcasting of the chess moves in this match without permission was prohibited by the Bulgarian Chess Federation (although they didn't seem to have a problem with Chessdom's, Crestbook's, ICC's and TWIC's live coverage). This has led to heated discussions on this site. The key question here is: can you copyright a chess move at all?

The above quoted article on the official match site doesn't address this question: it merely gives an overview of the actions which were taken by the lawyers of the parties involved. It ends with a quote from the president of the BCF, Stefan Sergiev:

This is a precedent in the world of chess and we are grateful to attorney Polzin for his assistance. This case will serve as a lesson to everybody who violates the copyright law.

Well, perhaps, but without concrete arguments (instead of words of barely concealed triumph) it all remains very mysterious. And it's such an interesting question! You can look at it from a legal point of view, from a philosophical point of view and from a historicial point of view. The very fact that it has been debated since the rise of professional chess (over 150 years ago) as this thorough overview by Edward Winter shows, indicates the complexity of the question. You should really just read the whole piece yourself, but let me just quote what Capablanca had to say about the matter:

A chess game, from its very nature and the manner of its production, must be the joint property of the two persons producing it ... You can charge what you like for the publication of the games in any form you may deem to your advantage. But, unfortunately, that is a common privilege, of which anyone may take advantage.

Capablanca's opinion raises the question what this 'very nature' of a chess game is, exactly. Basically, a chess move seems to be information. But what kind of information? That's a philosophical question, and it has obvious consequences for copyright issues. I like Macauley Peterson's definition of moves becoming 'factual events in the world', but I don't think it's so easy to say that because of this, there can't be copyright on them. In fact, there's a whole branch of copyright theory that deals with this question. To quote the Wikipedia article:

There are many other philosophical questions which arise in the jurisprudence of copyright. They include such problems as determining when one work is "derived" from another, or deciding when information has been placed in a "tangible" or "material" form.

This seems to go to the heart of the matter. What is a chess move, apart from a physical act ('event') by one player moving pieces on a board? Is it a 'thing'? A thought? Does it exist somewhere in time or space? When I think of a chess move in Amsterdam (say 1.e4), is it somehow different from Topalov thinking that same move in Sofia? Does it change by him actually playing that move? Anyway, aren't all thoughts free?

From a legal point of view, I haven't been able to find any laws or jurisprudence on the this matter, even though many commenters have said that there are certainly laws that deal with this question. But what laws exactly? In the Topalov-Kamsky case, are we dealing with Bulgarian law? With EU regulations? Or, in ChessBase's case, even with German law (as the article on the match site seems to imply)? Things are, in my view, complicated by the fact that we're dealing with broadcasts on the internet: in other words, in a global, virtual environment.

The whole copyright discussion has changed heavily since the rise of the Internet. A very interesting speech (and following discussion) by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software or GNU Project. which he held at MIT some years ago, deals in a fundamental way with many of the issues of copyright and the new virtual world. His point of view, too, has many shades of grey, as the following excerpt shows:

[I]nstead of increasing copyright powers, we have to pull them back so as to give the general public a certain domain of freedom where they can make use of the benefits of digital technology, make use of their computer networks. But how far should that go? That's an interesting question because I don't think we should necessarily abolish copyright totally. The idea of trading some freedoms for more progress might still be an advantageous trade at a certain level, even if traditional copyright gives up too much freedom. But in order to think about this intelligently, the first thing we have to recognize is, there's no reason to make it totally uniform. There's no reason to insist on making the same deal for all kinds of work.

The discussion about the difference between a textual representation of a move (or a game) and the actual live broadcast of the game on, for instance, Playchess or ICC (or indeed here on ChessVibes), reminds me a bit of Plato's Theory of Forms and his famous Allegory of the Cave: isn't a chess broadcast merely a 'shadowy projection' of the Idea of a chess game? And isn't it silly to worry about these projections which are, after all, merely a weak reflection of the Truth?

Platco's Cave

Engraving of Plato's Cave, 1604

Of course, the matter will be (and has been) discussed over and over again on the internet and beyond. We have actually mentioned it before on ChessVibes as a commentary on the popular Monroi gadget. I do not want to formulate a definite opinion (yet). I've just tried to collect some links throwing (I hope) various lights on the matter. Have a look at them. I hope you will agree with me that, really, things are never that simple.


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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


armecito o. lumbab's picture

?'s picture

I for one think that copyrighting chess games is ridiculous. Who would own the rights to 1.e4? Would I owe Kasparov a royalty if I play the Catalan?

I do however take issue with live coverage ... this aides electronic cheating to have a game reproduced as it occurs. To me Chess isn't a spectator sport by nature ... I'd just assume analyze a championship game a week later as speculate on moves as they are being made. The result is the same either way = improvement in the observer.

I was personally not aware that Chessbase was barred from broadcasting (mostly becuase I don't follow the broadcasts). I did link to the chessdom live coverage on the blog and I can't help but wonder why other services were allowed to broadcast and chessbase was stopped. It sounds like a corporate war going on behind the scenes ... those in the chess information business have seen it coming since Chessdom launched.

supergrobi's picture

The German chess federation came to the conclusion that there is no copyright on chess moves, but that has not been confirmed by any court in any way yet as far as I know.

If you can read German:

Robert H?ºbner once tried to avoid publication of his games in a tournament. That was the (main) reason for the above expertise.

Michael's picture

I happen to be a lawyer and I can only confirm that, from the legal point of view, we're dealing with highly complex problems. I think the main problem is that nobody knows how the courts would decide - and this is what really matters, after all. Somehow it's a pity that Chessbase didn't dare to engage in a lawsuit - at least this would have led to a certain clarification.

By the way, I would like to point out an important twist at the end of that German article: While the authors come to the conclusion that there is no copyright on chess moves, they also say that this doesn't necessarily mean that anybody can commercially exploit chess games played by others. To put it more clearly: you can publish chess games just for the information of people, but as soon as you want to make money with them, things become tricky.

Once again, this is just the opinion of the two authors. As they point out themselves, it's the judges' opinion that really matters.

xtra's picture

I really think the main problem here lies in that a chess move is not really seperated from the game of chess...the entire game, that is. If someone held the copyright to the game of chess, they would also own every position that could arise, and perhaps more, because the "idea" of the game, the rules, would be copyrighted. It just seems weird to me that someone could own a move within such a set of rules, without owning the rules themselves. (ok, maybe "the world" is actually, in a sense, a set of rules. so its a question of complexity and creativity. But the rules of chess arent that complex, are they?)

you could also look at the practical consequences. If you can own a chess position/game, why wouldnt you be able to charge for everyone else to use it? That is the whole point with copyright...I own this, you pay me or dont use it.

Maybe they arent trying to copyright positions or games though, maybe they are trying to claim they own the transmission of the moves? I have no idea if it would be possible in court, but it sounds better than trying to copyright a position or a whole game. Of course, then anyone who was watching the game and just told the moves to chessbase would get that problem out of the it seems futile.

me's picture

I do not think the main problem in Topalov vs. Kamsky match lies in the chess moves itself. The main problem is that Chessbase took the moves from official site and "forwarded" them to the playchess. I think this is the main problem. It would be perfectly OK if Chessbase had it's own staff in Sofia who would transmit the moves to playchess. But they didn't. It's not the chess moves that are the problem. The problem is that chessbase hijacked the transmission without asking.

Pablo's picture

This matter is complex, that's true. But chess should (i really believe, it should) work as the television works. There is a copyright in every program they make, and the same should happen in chess. Every game (and every move inside of a game) is a production of the players which are playing the game. When the circumstances gets to a situation where the games are officialy transmitted in a page, that page can decide who can also transmit the game, and so on: the moves.

Of course: television is right outside the little box. You can watch every program on internet. Where are the rules? I'm not sure. The internet matter is so complex that everything can be in one way or another. But, to conclude my thoughts. If the official page doesn't want to give the permission to some page (in this case, Chessbase) to make a live transmission, they are in his right. Why not?

Macarel's picture

Poor Plato must have rolled in his grave...

Timea's picture

hehe KramBase got scared !

JM's picture

As far as I know, there is some jurisprudence, though it remains to be seen how applicable it is in the current situation. There has been a court case regarding the live publication of basketball scores in het USA. The conclusion was copyright law didn't apply, so the broadcasting continued freely. In the the earlier discussion of the chess case, it was noted by someone that the lawyers of the organisation of the Kramnik-Kasparov match deemed the USA basketball ruling applicable in the chess situation. Therefor, they advised against trying and enforce copyright on the moves played in that match.

GuidedByVoices's picture

What I find really odd is not broadcasting games on the internet, but how Chessbase profits from the collective cretive efforts of thousands of chessplayers. In essence, I think they are making good bussiness out of something they don't properly "own".
It's fine they get money for Fritz, Chessbase and Playchess. That's fair busines, they created that product.

But asking money for merely compiling millions of games produced with a lot of effort and creativity by chessplayers? = "Megabase"

I cannot think of an Editorial company publishing the entire collection of Gabriel Garcia Marquez without paying him for the rights.

Hereby, I propose that Chessbase pays a heavy fee to the Professional Chess Association (PCA) for publishing games from professional chessplayers. The money thus collected by the PCA may serve well to those GMs who are lacking money for an expensive medical tramnet, for instance.

Why not?

GuidedByVoices's picture

Sorry, I was watching TV as I wrote my posting, so I have corrected some typos now:

What I find really odd is not broadcasting games on the internet, but how Chessbase profits from the collective creative efforts of thousands of chessplayers. In essence, I think they are making good bussiness out of something they don’t properly “own”.
It’s fine they get money for Fritz, Chessbase and Playchess. That’s fair busines, they created those products.

But asking money for merely compiling millions of games produced with a lot of effort and creativity by chessplayers? = “Megabase”

I cannot think of an Editorial company publishing the entire collection of Gabriel Garcia Marquez without paying him for the rights.

Hereby, I propose that Chessbase pays a heavy fee to the Professional Chess Association (PCA) for publishing games from professional chessplayers. The money thus collected by the PCA may serve well to those GMs who are lacking money for an expensive medical treatment, for instance.

Why not?

GuidedByVoices's picture

Further to my previous posting, the PCA may try to raise a pre-tournament contract to be signed for all those players who don't want their games going to "Megabase" without paying to the PCA.

I guess any law student could raise a valid contract accounting for this.

Arne Moll's picture

Interesting stuff, supergrobi, but it does raise the question why ChessBase stopped the transmission. After all, they have at least the German Chess Federation backing them...

By the way, let's keep the topic straight. This is not about ChessBase being the bad guys for whatever reasons - it could have happened to ChessVibes or ICC or any other chess site displaying the moves live as well.

GuidedByVoices's picture

And finally, if Chessbase doesn't agree to pay, fine, let them go to nobody's land.

Let's guess the PCA is able to develop a chess program similar to Chessbase, say, "PCAbase", including all the recent tournament games published in them. In a few months PCAbase will be up-to-date and Megabase something from the distant past.

I for one would be more than happy to pay some money I know will go back to the chess masters who "actually created" the moves; rather than fueling a dirty busines like "Megabase"...

Again, why not?

BSN's picture

I suspect that the Bulgarian Chess Federation took issue with the moves being relayed 'live' and not with the issue of copyrighting the moves, etc. They put up the entire games on their website after the game, and didn't object to any analysis of the moves on any site, to my knowledge.

There seems to be a creeping attempt to monetise the immense popularity of chess on the web: the Foidos 'experiment' is a case in point. That's the real debate, if you ask me.

GuidedByVoices's picture

Sorry, I messed up the acronysms.

I meant the "Assocation of Chess Professionals (ACP), not the dead "PCA" Kasparov/Short affair from the nineties...

LOL... Of course, the above arguments remain the same!

GuidedByVoices's picture


guitarspider's picture

@GuidedByVoices: When Chessbase charges money for its MegaBase it is not about copyright, it's about the work they did to compile the database. They don't own the games, nobody does, so they're free to compile them and charge money for their effort. Nobody forces you to buy it.

@me: I hope you realize that NOONE has staff at a tournament to relay the moves, everybody uses the official relayer. If using the moves of the official website is hijacking, then ICC, Chessdom, TWIC and Chessvibes are all guilty as well. In case the Bulgarians wanted to charge for the rights it was a stupid idea to broadcast the moves on the internet for free, because copying off the relay is legal. Imagine a radio reporter at a football match and somebody who listens to him and has a live blog about the events of the game.

For me the reasons why there can't be a copyright in chess is relatively simple.
1) Chess moves are events in the real world, the work done by the players causes them to make these moves, but is not identical with the moves (How often have we calculated completely irrelevant variations?).
2) If there was copyright on chess moves no chessgame could be played twice without breaking the law, because playing the copyrighted moves would mean a reproduction of the original game. The thought that 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 c5 6.e5 Ng4 7.Bb5+ Bd7 8.e6 fxe6 9.Ng5 Bxd4 10.Nxe6 Bxb5 11.Nxd8 Bf2+ 12.Kd2 Be3+ would be illegal is nice (no known drawing lines without a fine :) ), but in every other cases it would be horrible. Say two amateurs play a game and just by chance they copied a game between two GMs. Poor amateurs.

I am somewhat surprised and relieved to find my arguments in the document by the German federation.

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Arne Moll's picture

@guitarspider. How does the German article actually define a chess move? (I tried to find it, but couldn't.) Is it only a (generic) piece of information, regardless of when and where it was played, or do they consider it fixed in space and time? If they did, it would make the second argument invalid in my opinion.

Jan's picture

It depends if chess is considered a form of Art. Then the creation of the chess game can certainly be copyrighted. Similar to the creation of a painting or a music concerto.

test's picture

I agree that from an objective point of view, it is not at all trivial. I am even inclined to agree with Capablance (compare it to a piece of art, or an article, short story, novel etc).

HOWEVER: from a practical point of view it just would not work, especially in todays world. It would quite litterally be impossible to enforce. And even if it would be possible to enforce: suddenly all access to chess games would cease (unless we pay for it), I don't think that would be very benifical for chess as a whole.

Chess players can make money from their games under the current situation; example: Fire on Board: Shirov's Best Games.

As to chessbase ceasing broadcasting the games: they are a business. My guess is they did not think it was worth it taking this to court or creating some sort of sandal, Team Topailov sure know how to do that.
(And unless an ICC insider tells differently: I'm pretty sure they did not pay the organizers. The organizers don't like chessbase and decided they could not transmit the moves. They just pretended ICC and all the others did not exist, maybe because ICC has been threatened in the past and ignored it.)

WP Engine Reviews's picture

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guitarspider's picture

As far as I am aware the article doesn't really define a chess move, but page 1 b) says what I said in 1) with more words and sophistication. It seems to me that they think a chess move is not fixed in time and space (p3, case 4 for example). 2) is more what I fear could happen with copyright. The thing is there is the problem game vs moves. If you play book variations, how can you possibly have a copyright? But if the moves are protected, someone has the copyright and you would be breaking it, because someone already played the variation. Is it then possible that the game you play is partly a breach of copyright and you have the copyright after you get out of book? If you play a variation you found in a book, shouldn't the author of the article (or his engine???) have the copyright? This too would mean you are violating the copyright by playing the moves. These practical problems are huge in my opinion. I think they had the same concerns, because they mention a lot of similar points in their article, although they talk more about abstract law than the consequences for the players. It is interpretation on my part, but I think it's justified.

LaughingVulcan's picture

Everyone has an opinion....

Mine is that that a recording of the game (camera on the players making the moves, press conferences, etc.) is a "broadcast." The recorded moves of a game are not. All "relayers" (ICC, Chessbase, TWIC etc). do is report facts of a game in real time.

Philosophical considerations aside, a move in a scoresheet describes an event that happened at a particular point in time by a particular person. It is the record of a fact - or a series of facts in the case of a whole game. It is not the event itself, nor a 'recording' of the event itself.

I think it is incorrect to say the live relay of moves is a "broadcast."

In US law this would be akin to reporting the box score of a baseball game. As noted above, that's been found to be legal without violating any copyright. Describe that Player A did thus-and-such (or that Team A did this, Team B did that, etc.) and it is no copyright violation in the US - even when transmitted in real time.

Chess simply seems to be one (of apparently very few) recreations where the record of facts has historically seemed to have more intrinsic value than seeing the event itself. But that shouldn't mean that a scoresheet suddenly gets 'better' copyright privilege than the equivalent record in other sports.

Just my take on it.

Castro's picture

Of course it's not a question of copyright of moves. AT ALL!
What a biased aproach!
And in chess the moves are almost all there is about a chess event, especialy for remote public.
Much more than images or sounds, the moves matters a lot.
Imagine a sport event, say basket. If I organize it, I may turn it public by open the doors of the place, or even allow the press to broadcast it live (sound and/or images).
And everybody finds it natural that, even calling it a public event, I´m entitled to charge rights for those broadcastings in real time (not to mention the entrance fees!). And I can make money on it, because I'm the one who organizes it, and because there is lots of interest on this event I'm organizing.
And nobody talks about how ridiculous is "trying to copyright ones and zeros in pixels and in digitalized sound".
The question is not so simple, so please, dont throw shadows to our eyes! Plato must be revolving in the grave, really!

Arne Moll's picture

@me (and others) "The problem is that chessbase hijacked the transmission without asking" - apart from the fact that this is very hard to prove, I don't really see what the exact difference is between hijacking a move from a site and hijacking it from the live event itself. In both cases, the information stays the same, no? (Would it have made a difference if someone looked at the official live transmission, learned the moves by heart, and then reproduced them from his own memory on another site?)

Patzerboy's picture

On a similar point to guitarspider, if copying of broadcasts are made illegal, what is stopping two amateurs, say with nicknames "Topolav and Kamskii" playing an identical game, broadcast for free with identical clock times, just happening to correspond with the exact game being broadcast? The idea that you can copyright a chess move at a given time seems nonsensical.

Arne Moll's picture

Indeed, Patzerboy, this is what I tried to indicate with the question "When I think of a chess move in Amsterdam (say 1.e4), is it somehow different from Topalov thinking that same move in Sofia?". It's a crucial point, and as I understand it, the article on the German page also doesn't have an answer to it.

GuidedByVoices's picture

A professional chess game (ie, worth broadcasting it live or compiling it into a games database) is the joint creative effort of two players at their work. Regarding his own games, an active chess master may take money home by winning a high spot on a given tournament or by commenting his games to be published in a chess magazine or book. However, in the name of fairness, whenever somebody else is making money out of his games, he should be paid back.

I do not think we can easily work out how to manage internet live broadcasting, because I think Internet is a black box of cut & paste in itself, ill-regulated if at all.

My concern is products such as "Megabase". Other than an amateur chess player, I am a productive scientist. In this context, I wouldn't be happy if a company decides to "compile" my papers and sell them to interested competition. Nobody can, however, because once I submit the reviewed, final version of any of my papers, I sign a copyright contract directly with the editorial running the journal publishing my work. It's a 1-2 pages standard contract.

In the context of professional chess games, I easily envisage here a GM signing a copyright contract with the ACP when entering a tournament (ACP is the natural body caring about his well-being). How the ACP then gives raise to a coherent games base to be sold worldwide is of course another issue. But then, back to the point, some money should go back to the GMs, IMs, FMs an so on producing the actual games contained in the ACP database. To make it even more atractive, the chess masters might be asked to comment 10-25% of their games contained in the ACP database. Of course, this doesn't mean taking the professional games out of circulation. You could still go to TWIC or other websites to download the games or, alternatively, follow the games live on the internet. What the proposed ACP database would give you is comprehensiveness and technical annotations (ie, an atractive commercial product).

Other than the chess and science fields, I would switch to music. I cannot imagine someone "compiling" all songs ever created by the rock band Iron Maiden (200+). It would be prohibited by copyright laws, only because the band members signed a contract of reproduction/distribution...

The question here is, can the ACP raise such sort of contracts to protect the working rights of the professional chess players? I think the answer to this question is yes, but the idea needs to be embraced forcefully.

From a different point of view, what a professional chess player does on daily bases is to struggle in a highly competitive field to bring bread to the table, like in any other profession. What he creates and we so freely call a "chess GM game" is the historically discrete final outcome of many years of 4-10 hours hard work a day... To give raise to any of his games, the GM had to pay for everything, trainer, magazines, books, software, flight tickets to distant playing venues, hotel acommodation and so on and so forth... Why should a company like Chessbase make use of any professional chess game at all based on the poor claim thay are "merely compiling"... I cannot help but feel that Friedel has been laughing out loud about the lack of regulation in the creative field of professional chess... Get the point?

Johny's picture

GuidedByVoices, one difference between music and books or articles is that chess games have two different 'authors' all the time. You propose GMs sign a copyright contract: fine, but what about the opponents? Do they sign too? What if the opponent isn't a GM but some unknown amateur player? Does the amateur still have rights to his own game or is this only for the GM? What if the amateur doesn't care about copyright and the GM does - who settles the case? So you see, the situation is much more complicated here.

Guillaume's picture

@GuidedByVoices: The copyright agreement you sign with a scientific journal is a transfer of copyright. You give them the copyright of the article that took you months of hard work, and they don't give you a penny for it. They actually make money with compilations of such articles (journals, proceedings, etc). I'm not saying it's wrong, most scientists make their articles available for free on preprint servers anyway (like So my question is: if you're not getting any royalties for your scientific articles, why should chess players get some for their games? (and if you ask me, the same question applies to musicians and their music).

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GuidedByVoices's picture

I do not get your point Johny.

First, a rock band or a phylarmonic orchestra are usually more than 2 people. Many books display more than one author. Anyway, to the point:

(1) Copyright contract for chess players are not to be signed on a game by game basis, but in the context of the whole tournament. I would rather think of signing the contract before round 1 starts. If an amateur player does not sign, fine, let's invite another.
(2) I truly believe that we, chess players, are taken too far away by the particular features of our game. I cannot think of any other sport, scientific brand or artistic field where "amateurs" rule over "masters"... Amateurs play for fun, professionals do it for money.
(3) It seems to me that a refusal from an amateur player to make living standard of a chess master a tiny bit better is not ethically or even morally right. We should always strive to get things done the right way. If something does not hurt me but may help someone else, how can I walk away? Why on Earth would I do something like that?

Johny's picture

Yeah a band or an orchestra has maybe more than one or two people, but it's usually the same people, with the same interests - not different ones all the time, as in chess.

GuidedByVoices's picture


I did not say I make money out of my papers. My point is that in the science field, you decide to what journal you transfer your copyrights and the mechanism is fairly straightforward. It could be done in chess as well [from chess master to the ACP], why not?

My whole point is that the money collected by the "commercial ACP gamebase" may serve well, for instance, to those GMs who are lacking money for an expensive medical treatment. Or they could share the earnings once a year. The knot of this discussion is that money generated by the work of the chess master should go straight back to the chess master's pocket, not to Friedel's one...

Back to the scientifical publication system, which is also highly questionable because the Journals are selling knowledge which may impinge on humankind well-being and health issues, at least there I can chose where to publish my work, can't I? In chess, all the money goes smoothly into Friedel's pocket. Furthermore, at variance of the strange situation of the chess masters, I can even chose whether my papers get published or not! Indeed, I can decide not to submit my work or, alternatively, I can delay publication for strategic reasons...

Chess masters should not lack control of their creative efforts. It's theIr work. They should have (human!) rights. I have always felt that chess GMs have been not particularly lucky regarding their rights as really hard-workers. I have a couple of GM friends who just quitted competitive chess because it's extremely hard to earn enough money for a decent life... It also comes to mind the case of talented and strong GMs like Picket, Sadler and others...

Let's make chess a decent profession!

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Martas's picture

A tournament game is not only an effort of 2 players, it's also an effort of the organizer who payed the room for the game etc. Players just do their job, and if they are good enough they get payed well for that by the organizer. If somebody should get some money for publishing the game, it would be the organizer. GuidedByVoices, try to apply your thoughts about ACP to other sports, you might find them odd.
Regarding permission about live broadcast: Talking about moves and technical details how the game is beeing broadcasted is not that much relevant. Question is whether somebody is making some profit from broadcasting games without a permission. Again - compare it with other sports, nobody serious would come to a playing hall with hidden camera in order to do live broadcast of the game.

Arne Moll's picture

The discussion was also picked up on the blog Marginal Revolution.

It's a thoughtful post, and the author makes a sensible point noting that "transferring income to chess players is not a goal per se."

It seems to me this is also what Stallman points out in the article I mentioned. Why would it be a good idea to have a copyright on chess moves (or games) anyway? Who benefits, the public or the players?

GuidedByVoices's picture

To Martas:

Your thought "Players just do their job, and if they are good enough they get payed well for that by the organizer" might apply for 2700+ players who sometimes take home appeareance fees and have got sponsors (Leko, Anand, Topalov, etc). Now, what about the remaining 95-99% GMs, IMs and FMs who are 2699 and below. How does your thought apply in those gruelling Swiss Tournaments where only a few masters are lucky enough to take away the money? Is there any chess master out there winning several strong open tournaments yearly, thus making any significant money?

Mentioning the ACP so much in my previous posts makes perfect sense, because, at variance of other sports, ACP is made up by chess masters who work for their fellow chess masters...

....'s picture

I agree with xtra: I think a chess move can't be copyrighted because all the possible moves exist since chess itself exist. Saying "exist", I mean who can be played. The only one who could own a copyright would be the inventor of chess, so it doesn't really help us: ) You can't invent a move or a novelty: if a move is called a novelty it's just because nobody played it before but the player who played it didn't invent it. It's not like a book, for instance. In this case, the writer creates something which was not existing before. In chess we know that there is a finished number (ok very big but finished) of game which are possible. I think there is nothing to find, to discover, a chess game is just a choice of a game between thousands and thousands (and more) possible games....
But I think it's true that the problem during Toplav-Kamsky match was not about the copyright of a chess move but only about the live broadcasting.
PS: Sorry for my english :)

GuidedByVoices's picture

To arne moll:

Exactly the point. But the other way around: mention one, only one other sport where you can see all the games ever played for free or, alternatively, giving the money to an intermediary (Friedel) instead of giving any money to the players?

A professional football player takes money home, regarless he win, draw or even lose. Professional chess players must win about 75% of the points to get a chance to win any money... It's a cruel profession, can you realise that, can't you?

Finally getting there!

GuidedByVoices's picture

Then I would not give an exceptional novelist the Nobel prize, because the alphabet and grammar rules where already there. Any human creation is finite and belongs to a context.

How many games can you play along your entire life? The more games you play, the closer you get to GM level skill?

GMs must be seen as artists... When they look at the chess board, they see something completely different from weaker players. Taking back your example of the book, my younger son is already able to write, but I wouldn't pay him to read his texts...

We are suposse to pay those who excel at chess...

Johny's picture

"Now, what about the remaining 95-99% GMs, IMs and FMs who are 2699 and below. How does your thought apply in those gruelling Swiss Tournaments where only a few masters are lucky enough to take away the money?"

You act like we should pity them. It's not like anybody forces them to play in those tournaments, you know...

John Fernandez's picture

Let me just state that I'm stunned that this discussion continues to the present day. Taking it point by point:

First of all, it is 100% clear that if anyone owns copyright to the game, that it is *neither* the organizers nor sponsors of an event, but the players. Therefore the request from the Bulgarian Chess Federation is meaningless unless it comes from both Kamsky and Topalov.

Second, it is also clear that *both* players own the copyright to a game, if such a concept existed. This would mean that every game of chess you play creates a legal contract between the two players. It is this fact alone that makes the copyright issue completely untenable.

Third, I'm stunned at the hate Mega Database is getting. First of all, 62,000 games are annotated by players who were paid for those annotations. Second, you have 4,000,000 (approximately) games, so in this case, there are 8,000,000 copyright holders. Let's say that ChessBase decides to pay the full proceeds to the copyright holders after every sale of Mega 2009:

Mega 2009 sells for 149,90 €
8,000,000 games
Each copyright holder gets 0,0000187375 € per game

Wow. First of all, let's talk about the stupidity of ChessBase having to send out 280,000 checks, but let's also talk about how worthless the money would be! I personally have 130 games in MegaBase, so that's a whopping 0,002435875 € for me. Even a guy like Sveshnikov with almost 2,000 games would only be getting 0,036238325 €.

So let's see, if there *IS* copyright in chess games it is:
- Worthless
- Unenforceable

And if it *was* enforceable, chess is dead. No more software, books, magazines, bulletins, or anything.

Have fun, guys, but this argument was logically killed ages ago.

Thomas's picture

Dear GuidedByVoices,
I don't know how many fellow bloggers will be able to follow ... but as I am a publishing scientist myself, I disagree with part of your posts starting today 12:20PM:
In my opinion, a finalized peer-reviewed scientific paper is comparable to an _annotated_ game. Beyond the results it contains at least discussion and conclusions, maybe also suggestions for future research. Discussion includes statistical treatment of data, comparisons with earlier studies, and interpretation of results. In a chessic context, this is equivalent to earlier games in the same opening (or, as recently here on Chessvibes, similar rook endings) and variations. "Suggestions for future research" may be something as "21.-Rc7? loses, maybe 21.-Ne4!? can hold the draw"; conclusions may be "this line of the King's Indian is under a cloud (or even losing by force)".
And any GM may keep things partly secret, not giving all of his opening analysis because he may still want to play the same line in the future - just as you and I can keep things secret for the next publication on the same topic ... .

The 'raw' moves are then comparable to the raw analytical (or experimental) data. These are (or should be) freely available to colleagues after publication. No publisher will prohibit us from doing so, quite a few actually encourage (or even force) authors to put them in a publicly available database.

And, still in a scientific context, databases or opening books are comparable to review articles or textbooks. Here the author does the additional job of compiling and synthesizing data from numerous sources, and he _may_ even be paid for it.

Martas's picture

GuidedByVoices - again, have a look at other sports. If you play whatever at lower level, you have to win some prize money in order to get some money out of your playing. You would never get money because somebody published your game or showed the nicest moment from some of your games.

Arne Moll's picture

LOL John F. Hard to disagree with that. Anyway, isn't Chessbase also offering all those games online for free on

John Fernandez's picture

Yes, Arne, but remember, the unannotated database is 49,99 €. Therefore, the market states that the 62,000 annotated games are worth 2.5x what the 4,000,000+ unannotated games are.

And I think we can all agree that the annotations have copyright protection!


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