Columns | 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


Arne Moll's picture

Do they? I didn't know that. I'm still having a hard time trying to imagine which part of the annotations is actually copyrighted. Is it the exact words (often translated with Babelfish, I suppose), or the moves of the analysis, or only the ideas, or perhaps the combination of moves, words and symbols ... ? (I know it's common practice to mention the analyst's name with moves that where (first) analysed by him, but I thought it was just politeness, not obligatory.)

Thomas's picture

I don't think the moves of the analysis can be copyrighted. It is possible that several people find them independently - indeed plausible if Rybka is the original and common source ,:). In any case, just as an opening novelty was maybe already played in a Timbuctu club game, analyses of a Topalov game may have been already published in a Bulgarian newspaper or chess magazine - and Arne Moll or anyone else is blissfully unaware of it.
But it would be hard to believe that he invents similar or exactly the same words (translated from Bulgarian into English or Dutch) independently ... .

John Fernandez's picture

I would presume that the copyright applies to the work as a whole, much as the word "The" isn't copyrighted from a book, even if the book is protected by copyright. Where exactly the line is drawn is probably somewhat unclear.

Arne Moll's picture

John, I know that with books (and music), there's such thing called intellectual property which at least is rather well defined. The problem is, of course, that most database analysis are not mainly words at all (and if they are, they're often laughably badly translated), but stuff like arrows, coloured squares and symbols. How to copyright that, even considering we'd want to apply it to the 'work as a whole'? (The longer I think about it, the harder I find it to understand the concept of 'copyright' at all! :-) )

John Fernandez's picture

Well, I'd say that the method of expression is irrelevant, as the arrows and symbols are just a different language.

Copyright is a subset of Intellectual Property, which gives a creator license over original work. Of course, in this case, there are two creators, and there's some question as to how original the work is!

Of course, IP generally has to have some progressive or beneficial concept, which is probably a bit problematic to use for chess. The best comparison would be art or music, but even then, other problems creep in.

Bartleby's picture

Chessbase is a commercial site, and the transmission contributes to them selling subscriptions and products, so it would be fair to share their profit with the players and organizers.
Generally I agree with Capablanca: A game of chess is the product of the players. Like a piece of art.
Chess theory, on the other hand, is a collaborative effort, a search for the truth, like science, and should flow freely.
That's a conflict, and it should be weighed carefully where to draw the line. I think opening lines should be free, and the analysis of a single position should be free. But the publication of a complete game, or a long enough part of it, should generate a small amount of money for the players.
In reality, I don't see how this could be achieved. The organizers would force the players to transfer the rights, prohibit unauthorized publication, and make a little money, while the players and the chess world as a whole would be worse off.

Castro's picture

I would like to repeat:
It is NOT AT ALL a question on copyright moves of chess!
Merely knowing exactly what rights there are in reserving and/or selling (offering here, selling there, forbiding or not over there) certain pieces of information (live!) about a public (sure!) event that one organizes.
As more crucial certain type of information is, more crucial the question is!
Please, avoid that blindness about "copyrighting moves of chess", or else become defenders of absolute freedom of broadcasting and of "no copyrighting" zeros and ones of digitalized information of TVs and radios broadcasts of any sport events (and others!).

Johny's picture

Castro, you may not like it, but the article IS about copyright on moves (and a few other subjects), what's wrong with that? You're talking about 'certain pieces of information' - well, what else are we talking about but chess moves as pieces of information? I don't see how this is not relevant to the discussion.

John Fernandez's picture

Really, Bartleby? How much is that one game worth to ChessBase? How much incremental revenue is made from it?

That's the underlying problem here. If Mega Database, for example, sold 10 million copies a year, then yeah, there's a huge amount of money to chop up and give to players. There isn't. Like I once asked a particular GM (which made him very mad), "How much money do YOU deserve for your games?" He offered a rough guess at $100,000 per year. I then did the math, for GMs alone, you're talking $90,000,000 per year! If you add in IMs, all of a sudden chess needs to be a $200 million market per year JUST for purchasing games, of JUST GMs and IMs! The money simply doesn't add up. As I stated before, the going rate of an unannotated game today is 0.0000124975€ per game, or 0.00000624875€ per game per player.

Yes, I agree that in certain circumstances, some games may be so valuable that people would pay for them. World Championship matches are one good example. Even then, the market won't bear very much (Say, $10 per visitor), and the mere act of charging excludes a lot of people from watching the game, and frankly, costs you money when you factor in the negative publicity that you get. If you're paying millions for a world championship match, clawing back $20,000 via a live broadcast is at best penny wise, pound foolish. At worst, it is casastrophic stupidity.

*If* there was some giant money pool, then perhaps you would see some demand to craft some type of system similar to that used by the Screen Actor's Guild for movies. As it stands now, the costs of such a system are many times larger than the market itself! (Let's ignore the fact that you'd need a contract signed before every single game of chess is played, or at the beginning of every tournament, and so on and so forth.)

If someone can propose a system which works better than the current "All games are free, with no protections or restrictions on their use" concept, I'm all ears. Talking about imaginary money being paid for games when the market has made it clear that the money is very very small for so many games is not a solution at all.

Castro's picture

Sorry, no offense, but if you don't see now, maybe you'll do next time. Just read me again and better, and think about it.
Of course the article IS about something, and I say that something IS NOT at stakes in the Topalov vs. Kamsky broadcasting issue (nor on similars).
Or else, it would be a question on EVERY broadcastings with reserved rights.
And, of course, calling the "copyrights" question here grants one thing: The bombastic effect, the controversy. But I'd say it is quite artificial.
The good thing is that maybe, without this type of articles, we wouldn't write so much these days ;-)

Arne Moll's picture

Castro, everybody understands what you're saying, it's just that it ignores a basic aspect of what I tried to point out in my article, which is that the nature of the game of chess is completely different from other things that can be 'broadcasted'. You really can't compare it with, say, a movie or a live baseball game (except perhaps with the bare results). A chess move is ONLY information, nothing more, and as soon as a chess move is played by someone, this information is - what, free? Or not free? What do you think? Does it really make a difference if the move is transmitted via a (paid) live site or via a cell phone from someone in the audience? How is it different? It's still the exact same piece of information.
By the way, the matter of the Bulgarian Federation vs. Chessbase really is about copyright on chess moves. After all, Chessbase was not the only site that broadcasted the moves. Somehow, they hadn't obtained 'copyright' over the moves, but other sites did. How else would you call this, if not a copyright issue?

John Fernandez's picture


I think the baseball example is not half bad. The way the court ruling went over here, it breaks down as follows: Scores and Statistics are public domain, while Commentary, Images, Sounds, etc. of the game are not.

You can recreate a baseball game fully from the boxscores, much as you can recreate a chess game fully from the score.

The analogy would be that moves, time taken and the results would be in the Public Domain, while the pictures, commentary, annotations and audio would be copyrightable. So it actually works quite well as a comparison.

Though yes, the images of chess are, well, more boring, but that doesn't defeat the purpose.

You're also correct that copyright must be vigorously defended. Either the Bulgarians would have to be attacking everyone who 'violated their copyright', or they would have to be attacking no one. Selectively going after one or two makes no legal sense, and may even undermine a copyright claim.

Bartleby's picture

@John Fernandez
I agree 0.0000124975€ is exactly the amount an unannotated, otherwise unnoteworthy game should be paid for.
But Chessbase generates revenue from the visitors to their site, directly and indirectly, and a live coverage gets them a lot of visitors. That's what I think should be shared.

About small payments: I just read an article how newspapers need a viable, non-intrusive way to charge small payments (0.01-0.10) for online content.
If there would be such a way, it might be feasible for watching chess games online, too, at least live for live transmissions.
Right now, there isn't. And I can't believe $10 fees are realistic.

Thomas's picture

"Either the Bulgarians would have to be attacking everyone who ‘violated their copyright’, or they would have to be attacking no one."
I think the official Bulgarian version was that Chessbase didn't ask permission to 'copy' the live moves from the match website, and everyone else did.
But I think hardly anyone (read: neither those calling Chessbase 'Krambase' nor those who would disagree on that one) believes that this was the actual or only reason for singling out Chessbase ... .

Iknownothingaboutchess's picture

What if I put a super computer to play chess games, do I own all the games that the computer generates? Does that imply you cannot play those games anymore unless you pay me?

Jan's picture

Copyrights should be forbidden.

MM's picture

I don't get question of this article? Why is it speaking about copyright on moves?
Totally irrelevant IMO, it's about copyright on the broadcast, or better put broadcast rights. Just like there's no copyright on kicking the soccer ball (i.e. making a certain chess move), but there is a broadcast right to show a certain match on television.

Castro's picture

@Arne Moll

As I posted in another article where this question arose, I feel I don't have the complete LEGAL competences/information.
But there are some things I know and I can see, and one of them is that many "easy" errors (evident when you see them ;-) ) are comited here.
Answering to your post...
First of all, let's put appart, once and for all, the simpliest issue.

"After all, Chessbase was not the only site that broadcasted the moves. Somehow, they hadn’t obtained ‘copyright’ over the moves, but other sites did."

This is easyly dismised: Call it "copyrights" or not, broadcasting something you shouldn't (*IF* you shouldn't) can only bring you problems if the "damaged" part complains, because it is not a "public crime". If two TV stations broadcast ilegally something, and only one of them is sued, only this one gets problems. Period!
Now, does the story here imply that either some sites payed and Chessbase didn't? They may, but not forcely: They could just have been tacitally allowed, and Chessbase haven't. In this last case, would it imply the bulgarians have something against Chessbase? Is Kramnik some reason for that? All this can be, but again, not by force. The thing one gets to notice right away is that all these questions are not the matter we're supposed to discuss, when discussing IF the bulgarians have (or not) some rights regarding live broadcasting of certain informations about their (public) event.
*IF* you have a right to exclude anyone from something, you will exclude who you want to.
So, saying other sites broadcast without problems is mixing things, passionately maybe, but artificialy.

"a basic aspect of what I tried to point out in my article, which is that the nature of the game of chess is completely different from other things that can be ‘broadcasted’. You really can’t compare it with, say, a movie or a live baseball game (except perhaps with the bare results). "

I agree (and said before!) with that difference of natures between chess and other things. But while you compare the most important part of a chess event (minute-by-minute!) with one of the not-the-most-well payed pieces of a baseball game for broadcast (the "bare results"), I completly desagree, and think about Plato (Where the shades? Where the real thing?)

"A chess move is ONLY information"

So... didn't you say "everybody understands what you’re saying". Well? It doesn't look like understood! If you don't feel strange about rights on zeros and ones, if they are the crucial part of something (the most desired part), I don't know what more to say!

(but I'll try)
"as soon as a chess move is played by someone, this information is - what, free? Or not free? What do you think?"

Another usual dangerous mixing of things is confusing principles with pratical questions. Again, *IF* the live broadcast of chess games (move-by-move) is to be considered the most important thing to be broadcasted, about a chess event, then *MAYBE* the organizers should get to say IF and WHO would perform those broadcastings. Sounds plausible to me. Moreover, because others can (and do) make money on that (directly and/or indirectly).
So, the information that Topalov has just played Na1 in the current game of the current event, MAYBE should be a non-free information, especialy while the event is running.
Pratically, it can be feasible but difficult to avoid transmition of the moves in almost real time, but that is that: A pratical question. (Which would be easier IF the legal frame and jurisprudence was that the organizers really have rights on that).

"Does it really make a difference if the move is transmitted via a (paid) live site or via a cell phone from someone in the audience? How is it different? It’s still the exact same piece of information."

Yes, it is. But the difference could be the legality (And, again, the pratical issue that no one would use a cell phone in a cell phone scrambled environment).
And *IF* the bulgarians have those rights, it doesn't realy matter who takes the information out of the place, I agree! They'll only sue who they want! THEN, we would discuss the reasons, and the intrigues, etc., NOT the copyright question per se.

"How else would you call this, if not a copyright issue?"

Again it looks you didn't read me! I repeat: Yes, we could call it "a copyright issue", but first, that discussion has nothing to do with the "Chessbase concrete issue", and second, looks like you should be prepared to discuss copyrighting on every type of broadcasts (ONLY information, you know?) --- exactly because you know precisely the differences of natures!

(Well, let's hope this post doesn't get lost)

Castro's picture


Yes, I think you got the point right, and in wiser and much less words than myself!
That is the nonsensical thing about the article.

John Fernandez's picture


You're half right. The Bulgarian Chess Federation has exclusive broadcast rights. Everyone agrees about that, and they relay the moves directly from the site, no one else does.

What is in question is what *rebroadcast* rights others have.

You can't take images, video, sounds, analysis from the original broadcaster without their written permission (which would require payment in many cases), because those are all copyrighted material.

The argument is whether you can take the moves themselves, or not. If the moves themselves are copyrighted, then you can never do anything with that game without the express written permission of the copyright owner.

That's where the debate lies, with regards to this issue.

Arne Moll's picture

Indeed, John.
Castro, MM: in my view, a chess game is always a broadcast and a rebroadcast and a re-rebroadcast at the same time. There is simply no difference between a game played 100 years ago and that exact game replayed today. There is also no difference between a game broadcast on site A and the same game broadcast on site B. No difference at all! And you don't even need a board or software to see the game - you can replay it in your head only and the information remains the same. That's why it's so silly to speak about broadcasts in the first place. Now imagine doing this with a soccer game! I hope you see the difference.
Basically, I think 'broadcast' is a useless concept in chess, therefore I prefer to speak about 'moves' only.

Thomas's picture

Castro+MM: Indeed, that's the distinction the Bulgarian organizers are claiming and trying to make - live transmission should be protected or copyrighted in their opinion (controversially discussed here). Post-game reporting of the moves is yet another story ... . The Bulgarians don't even try to prevent the game moves from being published at numerous websites, newspapers, New in Chess, Informator, databases, ........ or selecting who has such rights.
BTW, at least some players indirectly benefit from the fact that their games are published - the more people know about Shirov's games, the more copies of "Fire on the Board" are likely to be sold. The disadvantage is that database games help your opponent in his preparation, but that goes both ways - one reason why no player should even try to 'block' his games from apppearing in databases.
And this (first sentence in the previous paragraph) mostly applies to a few players who are strong enough AND publish that kind of books. With all respect, I haven't encountered the name John Fernandez before - trying to find out your rating failed because there are far too many "Fernandez's" on the FIDE rating list.

Says someone rated 1930 who presumably has no games in Megabase [even though a few were publlished on my club homepage ,:)]. So if I _ever_ got to play GM Shirov, I would have one advantage, not nearly compensating for numerous disadvantages ... .

John Fernandez's picture

I'm only a 2162 FIDE fish, but for what it's worth, copyright doesn't make qualitative judgements on the work, but I've been fortunate to have had my share of games broadcast live on the Internet from major events (and if I recall correctly, two draws in two games vs. a GM and an IM). I'm just trying to give some dimension to the problem.

As an aside, you'll find some games of mine vs. GMs, including ones where I don't lose (and some vs. IMs and FMs where I win!) Obviously you'll have heard of many of my opponents, but I was just as much a part of the game as they were. :)

Thomas's picture

Dear John Fernandez,
Of course I didn't want to insult you in any way (at the very least, you are still a bigger fish than I am :) ), but also giving dimension to the problem - singling you out rather than a semi-anonymous John Miller because you were posting your (very useful) comment.
If anything, you might have more rights to claim money from Megabase than top GM's - for them it's part of their job and indirectly compensated. I assume the 0.0024 Euros you mentioned are per copy of Megabase - so if 10,000 copies are sold it would mean 24 Euros, still "peanuts" and clearly not worth the considerable administrative effort.

Tarjei's picture

It's worth to mention that ICC have been threatented by organizers I believe on several occasions in the past when the games were covered live. I remember specifically the European Championship in Turkey some years ago, when they also published several warnings to ICC online seriously threatening lawsuit. ICC have always ignored such threats.

The super tournament in Dortmund also tried pay-per-view for access to the live games a few years back, but as they can do nothing with ICC simply re-broadcasting these games, they didn't try it again the next year.

The way for organizers to go, is to collaborate better with the chess servers like ICC and Playchess. Make special deals with them, in order to give them something more than just the moves. This would be beneficial for the tournament's sponsor as well.

Johny's picture

I think the point of the article is that it's not so easy to distinguish 'copyright' from 'broadcasting' ... so in practice, suggesting broadcasting rights is basically the same as having copyright on the moves after all. As soon as a move is broadcasted, is it free to use on another broadcasting site? If not, why not, given the fact that moves themselves apparently can't be copyrighted? And what's the use of exclusive broadcasting rights if anyone can broadcast the moves the second after they've been broadcasted on the original site?

Castro's picture

@Arne Moll
@John Fernandez

Still some confusion. Let's see...
The article is bombasticaly called "Copyright on chess moves - Shadows on the wall". And, indeed, defends that trying to restrict access to Chessbase live broadcast of the moves is exactly THAT issue. Lots of people entered that train, discussing it on that basis.
The simple fact is that such an approach is simply WRONG, ARTIFICIAL AND MISLEADING (I could try more ways of saying the same... :-) )
As MM rightly said, one can talk about Broadcasting Rights. It doesn't even matter if one call it broadcast or not (or re-re-rebroadcast), and it doesn't even matter if one call it copyrights or not. The important thing is NOBODY is trying to copyright chess moves (or even whole games) of chess, as belonging to him, not even saying something like "This game was played on my event, so you must pay me, if you want to reproduce it". That is NOT the question, and the names we call it are not of much importance.
In order to --- hopefully --- put an end to this confusion, I have imagined a little 3-scene abstraction.
Act I - Imagine that tomorrow YOU organize a match between Topalov and Kamski. At your place. Closed doors. No broadcasts, no nothing. It is not a public event, but in it can parcialy turn into one, if, after the games, you (or any of the players) show the game to the public, or press.
Act II - Imagine YOU organize (after tomorrow) a similar match, with the difference that you allow people to watch the games in the playing room, charging them some entrance fee, but demanding that no transmission of the games can be done during the same games. You inform them, you forbid the press (or demand that they don't broadcast), and you can even scramble the mobile environment, etc. After the games, other more general public around the world can see the games.
Act III - Well... Next week YOU just do what the bulgarian organizers did! Organize it as they did, and demand your (arguably) rights, as they demanded!

The only thing I'm saying (and some people more) is

With good reasons for your doings (or not), in NONE of the 3 above scenarios YOU would be asking to have copyrighted any moves of chess. There is NO QUESTION OF COPYRIGHTING MOVES OF CHESS W-H-A-T-S-O-E-V-E-R!

(Let's hope this one doesn't get lost either)

Castro's picture

In fact, originaly I though about yet another "scenario", which would be "Act III", before the final would-be Act IV. It's when YOU organize the same match, allowing people to enter, and forbiding all transmission of the moves during the games, except for ONE radio station (for instance).

Do you see? The questions on those scenarios could always be: "Can YOU do it that way? Are you entitled to charge this or that? Can you determine who can acess the moves? And can YOU determine THE WAYS people can acess them? What if a site copies the moves and reproduce them on the net without YOU allowing? Can YOU sue them?" ETC.!

And not "Can YOU copyright moves of chess? Are the games your property? Is it like Bell and the telephone?" Please!!

Castro's picture

And (do you see?) one can think "Ah!, but if the ONE radio station is lissened by Chessbase, they can write the moves on their site, as they are reeled.
That's the question! The pratical aspects are one thing, other thing is the legal issue!
In my "Act I", for instance, someone could ilegaly enter YOUR place, see the moves and transmite them!
In "Act II", someone in YOUR playing room could have a mobile phone (with some unscrambler), and get to USE IT for transmit the moves, even if YOU had the right to have that not happening!
Those are PRATICAL things ONLY. Enough confusion!

sjoerd's picture

Am i missing something or was this -far from obvious- view of the author of all chess games always and forever being broadcasts not in the article itself? Just like in the Fide's odds article there are then some basic things missing, imho.

Therefore I personally would rather see more coverage of tournaments instead of these pseudo intellectual articles.

Arne Moll's picture

@sjoerd. Do you have a serious argument, or are you just whining as usual?

sjoerd's picture

just whining as usual. I joined the club

Frank van Tellingen's picture

Exactly Johnny, it seemed to me, this was the point made by my friend, the IO-lawyer.

Guillaume's picture

My turn to whine. I'm tired of Castro's meaningless, confusing and interminable rant.

sjoerd's picture

But not of mine, right??! Woohoo!

p.s. castro has a point and Arne is indeed clearly wrong when he says that there was a case of copyrighting chess moves during the games of the Kamsky-Topalov match. The organization complained about broadcasting during the match, and said nothing about publicizing the games afterward.
It is a pity that mr. Moll presents not the whole truth in 2 consecutive articles.

Last thing; Arne wrote "basically i think broadcast is a useless concept in chess, therefore i prefer to speak about moves only". The first part is clearly rubbish but the last part is exactly what i hope he will do more in the future.

Castro's picture

Look: If you want to call it "copyright moves of chess", you're free to do it.
In the way it would be (and IF it would be)

First: No scandal would exist. The courts or the legislators would (Will? Have already?) focus on the question, as they may focus on any other dispute situation.

Second: No one assured that that kind of "copyright" (is it posible some of you people oblige me to use that stupid expression??) is not posible, moreover because there are some types of "work" involved. Please read the thread, lots of times that was exposed. We'll see what the courts will rule.

Now: The article IS about an aleged "copyright" on chess moves. Please be kind to read the VERY FIRST (and the firsts) posting(s) the article imediately originated! It is a simply ridiculous situation. Thomas said, somewhere, that by the post of GuidedByVoices, the discussion "changed (maybe lost) focus". Actually, the discussion was induced as to be out of focus, from the very start, from the articles' irrealistic and bombastic approach.
And many people here is still trying to claim a scandal, because someone is trying to copyright chess moves!
Well, Chessbase would realy like this ridiculous confusion to settle in.
I wonder... Why so much interest? MMM, maybe because it IS interessant.
Or could it be because the live moves from an elite chess tournament are completely free, and property of the human kind? Maybe they should be, but try explaining that to someone who pays for tv broacasts of football or words of a conference, or bytes of music. Or try to impose those "rights" at the door of a tournament without broadcasts.
See? The only things that could genuinely realy shock us about paying for chess moves are the (shocking) things that no one is asking for: The property of the move itself, and the ilegality of showing (analising,...) the game afterwards.
A clip of 1 second of a Ronaldo's kick in the ball is maybe not free to reproduce. It is not the very kick itself, but it is the most public-friendly and acurate representation of the kick. Maybe one can see that 14. Qxh7, when reported live, has a similar role to that clip, in what a chess tournament concerns...

John Fernandez's picture

@Thomas - Not insulted, that was exactly my point. :) I was just showing off that I have done well vs. titled players in my career!

@Castro - Copyright is the means by which someone can control the Rebroadcast rights. If the moves are copyrighted, then they cannot be rebroadcast without the express written consent of the broadcaster. If they are public domain, then there is no such thing as protecting the rebroadcast.

Castro's picture


Death to The Castro guy! His rant is as big as my bad manners and ignorance!

Thanks, sjoerd!
(but pls be easy on people who try to give us information and food for thought about this chess thing)

Castro's picture

@John Fernandez
Ok, never mind the names, but you must agree that, by that meaning, the discussion is posible (even if maybe one are not fully prepared for it), the confusions stop, but (and because of that) the scandall and the bombastic effect disappear, and maybe one begins to find that kind of copyright as acceptable and plausible to the chess moves of an elite tournament as for images of a football match...

Castro's picture

Live "broadcasting" of both, must be said. That's what it is about.

John Fernandez's picture


That's what the Bulgarians are arguing. However, it is clear that Images of a chess match = Images of a sporting event. Gamescores of a chess match = Statistics of a sporting event. No need for further comment on this from me.

patrick's picture

Once a move is made, it's out and anyone else can re-transmit the fact that the move was made. I do not think there is any way around that. Intellectual property is not my specialty field, but this is my opinion. The original broadcast has the advantage of being first in time and the advantage of being official. They can have contracts for exclusive footage, exclusive player interviews, and high-level commentary. The annotations, analysis, and presentation of the games can be copyrighted. But not the actual moves. In an analogous context of a sporting contest, one station might have exclusive license to have cameras at the premises, but other stations can still run a live score "ticker" at the bottom of the screen. Same here. Other websites can transmit the moves as soon as they can get them.

Castro's picture

@John Fernandez

Sorry, if no more comments here from you.
Your "system of two equalities" (not "equations", of course) is HIGHLY dubious, hehehe :-)
"Clear" is something it surely isn't, otherwise you would also agree:

A chair has four legs. A dog has four legs. Hence, a chair is a dog" ;-)

Patzer's picture


Arne Moll's picture

"The organization complained about broadcasting during the match, and said nothing about publicizing the games afterward. It is a pity that mr. Moll presents not the whole truth in 2 consecutive articles."

Sjoerd, where in my article do I say anything about publishing the games afterwards? I already knew you don't like what I write, but now I must assume you also don't like what I don't write? ;-)

sjoerd's picture

well; after your introduction about the match you state that the key question is whether or not one can copy right chess moves. That is not the key question here. By ignoring the FACT that a broadcast is something different then viewing a game afterwards you created a problem that does not exist. Limited broadcasting is not claiming copy right on a game.

And by the way, I Do like some of your (earlier) writings, but I feel the last two articles were very bad. It seems they were written because you had to write something.

Thomas's picture

The discussion changed (maybe lost) focus a bit when GuidedByVoices was hitting Chessbase for making money with Megabase - here, John Fernandez still gave the best reply ... .
BTW, GuidedByVoices, what do you think about my reply posted 4March 17:53PM? Obviously I don't know your research fields - maybe there are some fields where raw data without interpretation are sufficient for a peer-reviewed paper, but I kinda doubt it .... .

Arne Moll's picture

Sjoerd, I thought it would be clear by now that the whole point of the article was to discuss whether this 'FACT' is really so factual! As I said, I'm still not sure, but I don't see what's wrong with discussing it.

The Closet Grandmaster's picture

Goran, over at Chessdom, has clarified on my blog that they "had no deal with the organisers".


Castro's picture

@Arne Moll

Hehe Let's not discuss exactly and only about analogies.
But there is "remote" like "giving good perspective through distance, or through an unexpected but fair angle", and "remote" as in "I say this means that, I so this is scandall, and now lets discuss this scandall".
(Sorry, I know you wouldn't use those words, nor probably even mean exactly that meaning, but another good thing about analogies is their "economy")


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