Monday, March 16, 2009

Murray Whyte asks, "Can you copyright a chess move?"

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."


But the broader assertion that the moves themselves could become the exclusive intellectual property of their creators has nothing to do with the Internet era. Bond recalls such debates having been on the chess agenda "for a couple of decades, at least."

Imagine this: Joe Blowovitch devises a new attack with the White pieces, which he copyrights; there's an effective defense against it, but he's copyrighted that, too. If Blowovitch plays his attack against you, you may not defend in the best manner available. Maybe someone else has copyrighted the second-best defense, too. So you come up with a third defense, but after the game someone announces that they had originated those moves three months ago and they own the IP rights to it.

Result: the death of chess. Or at least the death of well-played chess, which has always relied on study of previous moves and the dissemination of good principles.

Okay, once upon a time that would have seemed silly, but today people want to claim IP rights over everything - it's getting hard to parody. Claiming to own copyright over the record of the moves of a game seems a bit far-fetched, too, since reporting them would just be ... well, reporting. As in reporting the news, which is entirely legal.

Speaking of which, here's a link which comments on the NFL's exaggerated claims to copyright over the contents of football games. According to the NFL, it's legal to watch the game, but you're not allowed to talk about it at work the next day. Really, that's what they claim.

1 comment:

James Hanley said...

"It is too expensive, time-wise, to get involved in protracted lawsuits with Bulgarians"

Hmm, good advice. Right up there with "never get involved in a land war in Asia," and "never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line."