Can You Copyright A Chess Move?

from the well,-no... dept

Stephen S. Power alerts us to an ongoing debate in the chess world over the question of whether or not you can copyright a chess move. Specifically, the current debate arises from a demand by the Bulgarian Chess Federation that certain websites stop "live broadcasting" a chess match, saying that it violates copyright law. I'm certainly not familiar enough with Bulgarian copyright law to know if it actually could be interpreted in such a ridiculous manner, but in the US, at least, lawsuits have clearly stated that reporting on the facts and data from a sporting event is perfectly legal under copyright law. Most of the article focuses on the philosophical questions concerning whether or not a chess move can be "owned," but it's hard to think about the issue in any terms and come up with a good explanation for how such a move could be covered by copyright law. If you take that to the extreme, it would mean that you simply couldn't play chess. Whoever played the first few games would "own" most of the opening moves and everyone else would be out of luck. I imagine that the copyright supporters might insist that this would only force other players to use new moves, thereby increasing their creative output. Yes... I'm being sarcastic here, but it does highlight just how silly it is to even think about the idea of copyrighting chess moves, or even a collection of chess moves in terms of "broadcasting" a match.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Shawn, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:08am

    seems like software

    Seems alot like the software issue to me. You have sets of rules and many solution sets within the over arching set of rules. Getting a patent on a specific collection of programming code intended to do something seems the same to me as getting a trademark on a collection of chess moves that accomplish a check mate scenerio against an opponent.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:30am

    Re: seems like software

    If you had "...a collection of chess moves that accomplish a check mate..." there would be no point playing as you would always win.

     

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  3.  
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    another AC, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:33am

    But unlike software solutions..

    chess has strict rules. there are a finite number of legal opening moves in chess (like 20 if I'm counting correctly), so if someone has acopright on all those moves, they effectively 'own' the game since you cen't get to move number 2 without move number 1.

     

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    TheStupidOne, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:33am

    Re: Re: seems like software

    I have several such "collections of moves" ... problem is other people have seen them before and they tend to be rather obvious.

    Can I still patent/copyright/trademark them? .. Pretty Please?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:41am

    I think im going to copyright common sense! Most people wont have to pay, so it might not be worth it?

     

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  6.  
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    Yakko Warner, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:48am

    What about checkers?

    If I recall correctly, checkers was "solved" by computers because the number of permutations of the checkerboard was within the realm of possibility of things that could be tracked. In other words, a computer can process and store every possible checker move and store it in a database.

    If all those moves were copyrighted...

     

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  7.  
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    John, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:58am

    Professional Chess: It's all about the check, mate.

     

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  8.  
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    Don't use my move!, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 8:16am

    I just patented moving a pawn in the opening move! I will sue you for everything you got if you use it!

     

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  9.  
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    Ima Fish, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 8:17am

    Re:

    "Professional Chess: It's all about the check, mate."

    Oh my god, my ears. They're bleeding!

     

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  10.  
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    Ima Fish, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 8:25am

    Maybe the Bulgarian Chess Federation is admitting that these chess matches are scripted performances.

     

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  11.  
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    Doctor High, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 8:32am

    What if the same logic were applied to music?

    If you applied this type of reasoning to music, then only a select few people would "own" notes and chords. Subsequent musicians would have to pay royalties to several different people to produce and sell any music at all.

    Of course, maybe Trent Reznor would save the day by inventing a new set of notes and chords and release them to public domain? But that's only if he can get it done before some other fellow decides to patent "a method of creating new notes and chords for use with musical instruments"...

     

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  12.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 8:34am

    Everybody, pay attention!

    I own the copyright on the term "Checkmate".

    Use it only if you've paid me.

    Otherwise, I'll put a Queen to g4 move on your sorry ass.
    ;)

    Damn, such stupidity in this world. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

    I'm wondering who in the hell is going to claim copyright on the board pattern of 64 alternating squares.

    Watch out Hasbro, your ass could be on the line after you sued people for imitating Scrabble, you morons.

     

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  13.  
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    Dan, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 8:41am

    One could argue that every conceivable move is unable to be copyrighted as they are derived from a specific set of rules.

     

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  14.  
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    Robert Fisher, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:09am

    no no no! Individual moves cannot be copyrighted, same as individual musical notes cannot. However, the use of specific combinations of them in a time series leads to higher level constructs that are unique enough to convey an idiosyncratic "style" of play, which perhaps could be copyrightable.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:09am

    In answer to the question, only a lawyer with about 10 nanoseconds of copyright law experience would even consider the possibility of "chess moves" are potentially copyrightable subject matter. Maybe the match itself might be considered a public performance. Maybe the individual chess pieces are of such a unique design that copyright might come into play. But chess moves? No how, no way...and the mere discussion it may have even a scintilla of merit is beyond the pale, bordering on ludicrous at best.

     

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  16.  
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    Jesse, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:15am

    Well people have patented rubix cube moves, in the US no less. Chess has been around a while. If someone wanted to copyright a chess move wouldn't they have to show that it didn't exist before them?

     

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  17.  
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    interval, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:17am

    I'm curious to know of what practical use these types of copyrights would be to the holder, even if they only sought to enforce them when they were broadcast. Since a move is dictated by the conditions of the match, that would see to mean that every broadcast match would have to be monitored by agents of the copyright holder. I don't know how many matches are typically held around the world over a 24 hour period, but it doesn't sound very practical at all.

     

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  18.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:23am

    Re:

    perhaps could be copyrightable.
    DON'T GIVE THEM IDEAS!

    Copyright is bad enough. Moving a Chess piece is a fact, and is, therefore, not copyrightable (sp?).

     

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  19.  
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    Weird Harold, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:23am

    You guys need to learn critical reading skills.

    "live broadcast" is the key here. They could report the chess match after it is over, they could offer updates as it happens (if accredited as journalists to the event) but they have not obtained live broadcast rights.

    It isn't about copyrighting a chess move, that is just Mike twisting things to meet an agenda. It's all about putting out there live something people might actually pay to see live, pay to see later, or otherwise enrich the events holders by viewing, attending, or seeing the event.

    live broadcast. What don't you guys get?

     

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  20.  
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    Hulser, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:24am

    Live broadcasting vs reporting of facts

    "Specifically, the current debate arises from a demand by the Bulgarian Chess Federation that certain websites stop "live broadcasting" a chess match, saying that it violates copyright law. I'm certainly not familiar enough with Bulgarian copyright law to know if it actually could be interpreted in such a ridiculous manner, but in the US, at least, lawsuits have clearly stated that reporting on the facts and data from a sporting event is perfectly legal under copyright law."

    Mike, I think the above comment is very misleading. You're essentially saying that stopping live broadcasting is ridiculous because reporting on facts is legal. But the statement is a nonsequiter because "live broadcasting" is (I think most people would agree) not the same as reporting of facts.

    Based on your previous posts, I believe that you would assert that they are the same, but I don't think this is a majority view, even among fans of Techdirt.

     

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  21.  
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    Hulser, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:33am

    Re:

    It isn't about copyrighting a chess move, that is just Mike twisting things to meet an agenda.

    I actually agree with your point about the distinction between live broadcasting and reporting of facts, but to be fair, it wasn't Mike that first associated the cease-and-desist letter with copyrighting chess moves; it was the www.chessvibes.com article. Moreover, that site merely said that the story just "led to heated discussions" about whether you can you copyright a chess move, not that they necessarilly believed that one followed from the other.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:34am

    At the risk of sounding like a chess neophyte, aren't series of moves already codified - at least loosely - like Demetrovic's Gambit or Sully's Enthrall or [insert famous chess players last name]'s [insert overwrought metaphorical noun]...this reminds me of public domain songs...Swing Low Sweet Chariot, the Star-Spangled Banner, etc...how can you copyright things that are already part of the public domain?

    When you're learning how to play chess from a teacher or a book or whatever, do you have to pay an extra licensing fee to learn specific series of moves and, moreover, do you have to license the use of these moves when having a match - in all types of matches or just in officially sanctioned matches.


    Speaking of matches, is it also possible to copyright punches or combinations of punches?..I call uppercut...no no no...I call rope-a-dope - ummm...Mr. Ali, I need a portion of your earnings please.

    This all seems a bit stupid to me.

     

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  23.  
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    ehrichweiss, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:35am

    Re: What if the same logic were applied to music?

    Reminds me of the Steven Wright joke:

    "Why is the alphabet in that order?"
    "Is it because of that song?"
    "If so, the guy who wrote that wrote EVERYTHING"

     

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  24.  
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    Dave, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:37am

    Re:

    Are you saying that world chess matches are as real as professional wrestling?

    I knew it! Soon every gambit will begin with the player slapping his elbow!

     

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  25.  
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    Stephen S. Power, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 9:41am

    live broadcasting

    Live broadcasting a chess move isn't the same as live broadcasting, say, a baseball game. Here is a live broadcast of one of the games I'm playing through Chess.com on Facebook.

    1. e4 e5
    2. Nf3 Nc6
    3 Bc4 Bc5

    That's it. Usually there's a computer illustration board showing the pieces. There's no video of two guys sitting at a table.

    In addition, this the most vanilla opening imaginable because it is the most successful for both sides. In fact, it's the first opening analyzed in Irving Chernev's LOGICAL CHESS as part of a game played in 1907. And dhe first two pairs of moves also began the 2008 Chess Masters final in Bilbao:

    http://www.bilbaofinalmasters.com/en_retransmision.asp

    Note that White went into the Ruy Lopez with 3. Bb5, which black countered with the Morphy Defense, a6, and white pulled back with 4. Ba4 instead using the Exchange variation and taking black's night. I say this because Ruy Lopez developed this opening 500 years ago. Morphy's defense is only about 150 years old.

    So how can a move be owned? A move is a tactic. It'd be like owning the idea of a first pitch strike. Then again during a War on Terror and a War on Drugs, battles against a strategy and a trade good, respectively, perhaps owning a tactic makes sense.

     

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  26.  
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    Hulser, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 10:25am

    Re: live broadcasting

    That's it. Usually there's a computer illustration board showing the pieces. There's no video of two guys sitting at a table.

    It would really help clarify -- and probably render moot -- the entire conversation if we knew whether by "live broadcast" they meant descriptions of chess moves (as in "e4 e5") or "video of two guys sitting at a table". Perhaps to a chess fan, "live broadcast" means a computer illustration board, but I think to everyone else on the planet "live broadcast" would be interpreted as video.

     

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  27.  
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    Avish Bhalani, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 10:45am

    Copyright

    I think i am going to Copyright layups and then i will own the sport of basketball

     

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  28.  
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    Danny (profile), Mar 10th, 2009 @ 10:58am

    I always hear Tony Kubek's voice when I say this

    I wonder where US Case Law stands on Major League Baseball's assertion that they own the "pictures, descriptions, and accounts" of their baseball games?

    Anyone here know?

    It seems to me the chess case is fairly similar to this.

     

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  29.  
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    stiles, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 10:58am

    Live Broadcast vs 'live broadcast'

    The comparison here should really be the relationship to broadcast sports. A chess match is a professional event that is owned and licensed. The "Live Broadcast" (or any other image-based coverage) from that event are under the strict control of the promoter, league, sponsor, or whoever else has negotiated a piece of that pie. The NFL, NBA, MLB, FOM, NASCAR, write strict rules when they let outside media into their events, what they can use, and when they can use it.

    On the other side is the 'live broadcast' of the information, statistics, and data of that "Live Broadcast".
    For all the participants on-site, the promoters absolutely control any and all information that can be dessiminated from that event site. Once the "Broadcast" is broadcast though, all bets are off. If I want to post play-by-play information to my fantasy league while I'm viewing a released feed, that information is now in the public domain. Obviously, my information is not truly "live" but the delay is minimal and pretty much might as well be considered 'live'. For a sport like chess, it's certainly live enough. Unfortunately, the entities who would be interested in reporting that information also generally want access to those premier events, so just the threat of retaliation can be a controlling factor. They certainly have the right to report that which is in the public domain, but they have to balance that against their desire to be credentialed in the future.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 11:11am

    Re: Re: Re: seems like software

    To patent a collection of chess moves that don't necessarily accomplish a check mate you might have a problem with prior art !

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 11:32am

    Re:

    Why do you think Mike is twisting things? Can you describe your perception of this agenda he has?

    Would live broadcast of an event instill more interest to have people pay to see live? Have you considered NFL's model? Do you believe people would stop seeing football games in person if they could see it for free on TV or online? Or is it more likely that interest in the entire sport/event would dwindle at a wholesale level given the sheer amount of ways people could waste time for free?

     

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  32.  
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    Myrddin, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 11:59am

    copyright a chess move, great idea

    Hi all,

    Well, I am the owner of all moves I ever played since since age 7.

    So, anyone that played the same move after I did, without my permission, owns me a lot of money.

    Ha, creditcrisis, I will survive.

    Rob.

     

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  33.  
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    Jeff (profile), Mar 10th, 2009 @ 12:01pm

    Re: But unlike software solutions..

    Don't give them any ideas.

    And yes, it is 20. (2 each for the 8 pawns and the 2 knights)

     

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  34.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 12:08pm

    Re:

    It's all about putting out there live something people might actually pay to see live, pay to see later, or otherwise enrich the events holders by viewing, attending, or seeing the event.
    Excuse me, but what in hell gives these distributors rights of ownership over a broadcast? It's no different than professional sports stating they have rights over broadcasts, and that's simply not true.

    In the United States, facts cannot be copyrighted. A Chess move is a fact, so charging for these "rights" is wrong no matter how you try to spin it.

    If these idiots have a hard time understanding this, that's their damn problem. They shouldn't force their stupidity on others with bogus claims of infringement.

    Don't be clueless, Harold.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 12:23pm

    Re:

    Thanks for restoring sanity!
    It was one of those Mike gone wild moments.

    However the true issue is also pretty interesting. I follow cricket on cricinfo.com where they provide live commentary and also "instant digital reenactment". Nobody has objected to that because it can never match the experience of watching it on TV/internet. However in chess such coverage is good enough.

     

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  36.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Mar 10th, 2009 @ 12:28pm

    Re: Live Broadcast vs 'live broadcast'

    A chess match is a professional event that is owned and licensed.

    Yes, that's the issue at hand. Thank you for restating the Bulgarian CF position as if it were a fact. You have been very helpful.

    I'm amazed at the number of people who think that everything must be owned by someone.

     

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  37.  
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    Travis, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 5:02pm

    Re:

    no no no! Individual moves cannot be copyrighted, same as individual musical notes cannot. However, the use of specific combinations of them in a time series leads to higher level constructs that are unique enough to convey an idiosyncratic "style" of play, which perhaps could be copyrightable.
    This is either really good satire or you are retarded.

     

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  38.  
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    Phffffft, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 6:23pm

    Can I copyright the cheek lift ?

    In order to get a really fart, one must lift a cheek. If I vidoe this, then I own the copyright and no one else can copy it.

     

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  39.  
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    Thomas, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:13pm

    concerning public domain

    Laying aside most of the legal arguments against copyrighting moves in an ancient board game:
    If a lot of combos are classic, they would almost certainly be public domain, like Beethoven. I'm not too familiar with the codified moves of chess, but it seems to me, that in order to prove that your move is really yours, it would have to be of a level of complexity where you would never have an opportunity to employ it, like, it required such a specific layout of the pieces that it wouldn't occur, ever.
    Someone who knows more than me about chess: how often are new really useful moves conceived of?
    Even if the answer to this question is, often enough to be worth owning one, would it really be good for the game? It might generate some new interest, but it would make broadcasting more complicated.

     

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  40.  
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    Hmmm, Mar 10th, 2009 @ 7:40pm

    so...

    Let's say I write every letter of the alphabet on my foot. I get a patent on my foot. I would then own the entire English language.

    Not much difference.

     

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  41.  
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    Weird Harold, Mar 11th, 2009 @ 8:19am

    Re: Re:

    Ignorance is bliss, you are very happy today.

    The event isn't "public", even professional sports isn't "public", it is private by invite / ticket only. Public would be on the sidewalk where anyone can see. Inside a stadium, a building, or any other restricted area in any sense is not public in true legal terms.

    The event has rights to control who sees the event, including the broadcast of the event. It's basic law, something not even worth debating.

    If you can't catch that Mike is trying to rile you guys up by ignoring reality and talking about "copyrighting a chess move" instead of saying "owning the broadcast rights to an event"... well, I feel sorry for you.

     

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  42.  
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    Stephen S. Power, Mar 11th, 2009 @ 10:03am

    new chess

    The Hypermodern School of chess came to prominence in the 1920s, although the ideas first were developed in the mid-19th century.

    Regarding opening movies, David Shenk in THE IMMORTAL GAME points out that more important than the number of possible moves is the number of possible board positions. Before making his first move, white is look at 20, the number of possible opening moves. But then black is looking at 400. After four moves, there are more than 3 billion possible board positions.

     

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  43.  
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    Fritz, Mar 11th, 2009 @ 1:15pm

    Chess Puzzles

    Does this mean that a book of chess puzzles are not covered by copyright. So as long as the textual content was not used the actual puzzles are fair game?

     

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  44.  
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    patrick, Mar 11th, 2009 @ 1:59pm

    Fritz, yes the puzzles are fair game. Only the "selection and arrangement" of the puzzles is copyrightable. Which means, you are safe if you switch around the order or mix in your own puzzles from other sources. But any editorial expressions would be copyrightable, including any annotations or other markings.

     

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  45.  
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    Gergana Lozanova, Mar 13th, 2009 @ 5:41am

    chess move

    Hello

    My opinion based on my practical experiece in Copyright and related rights field is: NO, the chess move can not be protected by Copyright according to the Bulgarian Copyright and related righst law! I can give my full argumentation on that if anyone needs it.

    But when the chess game is recorded, so there is a video of that game, then, the person or the organization that financed and organised the recording of the chess game has the so called related right! This person or organization has the exclusive right to:
    1 use;
    2. forbit to others to use;
    3. and give permission to other parties to use their movie containing the chess game!

    I hope my answer was usefull!

    Greetings

    Gergana she_19us@yahoo.com

     

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