chess_pieceThe Chess world is buzzing after Chessbase was forced by the Bulgarian Chess Federation to stop reporting on an event from the World Chess Challenge 2009. The argument used to stop the broadcasts was “copyright violation”, by which the BCF meant that they held the copyright to the, uh, … event? List of plays? Broadcast rights? I’m not entirely sure.

Commenters on the above linked sites come out for and against this copyright application, and now even Techdirt has weighed in on the discussion. As usual, a lot of the comments are plain silly (please note that I am not a lawyer).

  • Some commenters complain about the ridiculousness of copyrighting chess moves. What, once someone plays 1e4, no one else can? That’s not a very strong argument; it’s akin to claiming that a poem can’t be copyrighed  because a single word or phrase can’t. Copyrighting a Chess playback is meant to protect reproducing an entire event. Obviously a single move isn’t claimed as copyright.
  • Some commenters complain about whether asserting this copyright is good or bad for the organization, or Chess in general. This argument is not entirely beside the point, but more of a side point when the law is concerned.
  • Some have pointed out that other organizations, such as MLB, have tried to copyright sports scores and reporting, and in the end the court throw these attempts out since scores are simply facts, which can’t be copyrighted. This may or may not apply for a Chess playback, since it is exactly representational of the game itself, whereas the scores in a baseball game are not really a substitute for the game.

On the other hand, the argument for, which is that people should be allowed to make money from the gameplay, is also not much of an argument. Or, not enough of one to allow the full weight of the law to trump freedom of the press and speech. Copyright is a limited monopoly to provide incentive to promote the arts and science as a benefit to the public. I’m pretty sure that no one is going to stop playing, or investing in Chess, without this copyright: it hasn’t stopped them so far. And if it does, I’m sure the public will survive.

The biggest confusion is that the argument seems really to have been over the “simultaneous broadcast”, which is more of a licensing issue. All sorts of companies have taken to the idea that paying for the exclusive right to broadcast an event means that they can sue to shut down anyone else from speaking about it, so as to protect their business investment. The question is whether this is a copyright issue.

And if you can copyright Chess sessions, what about other games?