Copyright in chess

The Topalov – Kamsky match sparkles discussions on copyright

Copyright is a form of intellectual property which gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights for a certain time period in relation to that work, including its publication, distribution and adaptation; after which time the work is said to enter the public domain. This definition given by Wikipedia (based on multiple sources and dictionary definitions) is correct, although in no way sufficient and complete when it comes to chess.

The debate for copyright of chess moves has a long history. It reactivated on several occasions, the most recent being the matches Kramnik – Anand and Kamsky – Topalov. The broadcast companies in both matches had the same idea, to retain the rights over the game for a certain period of time. But both cases had completely different outcome, one failing to achieve anything after the start of the match, while the other reached decisive actions against Chessbase making them completely drop their live coverage.

Details about both cases have not been revealed, but that sparkled the discussion. The latest article published is by Toronto’s online edition under the title “Can you copyright a chess move?”

Thestar, Mar 15, 2009

Bond made the trek from his home in Guelph to Sofia, Bulgaria, last month for the World Chess Challenge. Acting as match supervisor for the semi-finals between hometown hero Veselin Topalov and Russian-born, U.S.-based challenger Gata Kamsky, Bond describes a scene that suggests a world bubbling with internecine intrigue.

In Sofia’s National Palace of Culture, the match room was darkened to prevent cues from the audience; a signal-jamming device blocked potential cheat sheets from being beamed in from outside; and during bathroom breaks, Bond dispatched a security detail with each player, to ensure that any relief was of the purely physical variety.

Given the intense scrutiny and suspicion that seems to attend the highest levels of the game, it should come as no surprise that the drama extended beyond the palace walls. It began when the Bulgarian Chess Federation, citing copyright infringement, barred ChessBase, the world’s biggest online chess portal, from broadcasting the match live, move by move, in a text format as it had been doing without the federation’s permission.

ChessBase stopped, as ordered. “They issued a cease and desist, and we complied,” ChessBase co-founder Frederic Friedel wrote in an email to Bond. “It is too expensive, time-wise, to get involved in protracted lawsuits with Bulgarians, and there is little to gain, monetarily, from a victory.”

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More discussion on copyright of chess moves

Mig Greengard – comments on Thestar article on copyright

Peter Doggers – another copyright point of view

Edward Winter – history on copyright of chess