Ridiculous Hot News And Copyright Battles As World Chess Seeks To Block Others From Broadcasting Moves

from the that's-ridiculous dept

A few years back, we had a few stories about ridiculous situations in which the Bulgarian Chess Federation was trying to claim copyright on chess moves and had even sued a website for copyright infringement for broadcasting the moves. Of course, chess moves are not just factual information, but they’re historically written down and shared widely, because that’s part of how people learn to play chess (and get better at it). Studying the moves in various games is part of how people practice chess, and no one is expected to claim “ownership” over the chess moves, because they can’t.

And yet… we’ve just come across two separate cases, involving one particular organizer of chess tournaments, trying to abuse the law to block reporting on chess moves — in both Russia and the US. Both cases are ridiculous, and thankfully, both have failed so far. The Moscow case actually kicked off back in the spring, when the organization Agon, which runs World Chess Championships and the website WorldChess.com, sued some websites, including Chess24, for posting the chess moves of live events. Thankfully, the Commercial Court of the City of Moscow rejected the lawsuit a few weeks ago, though Agon has said it will appeal. There are a number of reasons why Agon lost the case, but the key one:

Art. 14.7 of the Competition Act does not apply in particular since the Plaintiff did not establish a regime of commercial secrecy for the information about the chess moves. On the contrary, this information was in the public domain (as the Plaintiff himself admits on page 6 of the statement of claim). Consequently, information about the chess moves is not a trade secret and is not protected by law. Accordingly, the Defendant did not receive, use or disclose information that was a trade or other secret protected by law i.e. he did not violate Art. 14.7 of the Competition Act.

Then, just days after that ruling in Moscow, a very similar case was filed in the US by World Chess — which is owned by Agon. And, it also targeted Chess24, one of the same companies it had sued in Moscow. In the US, it’s clear that there’s no copyright claim to be made in chess moves — too many cases clearly preclude trying to claim a copyright in factual data, especially factual data about sports/competitions. Instead, World Chess focused on the pretty much dead and discredited “hot news” claims against a few other chess sites. The entire complaint can basically be summarized as “but… wah… it’s not fair!”

Defendants have made a pattern and practice of copying and redistributing in real time the chess moves from tournaments covered byWorld Chess shortly after the moves appear on World Chess?s website, and unless restrained by this Court will do the same with respect the November 2016 Championship.

World Chess not only asked for an injunction against Chess24 — but also demanded that the court order the domains of the defendants be transferred over to World Chess. The defendants hit back with a detailed explanation of how ridiculous World Chess’s lawsuit was:

By its Application for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction, Plaintiffs World Chess US, Inc. and World Chess Events Ltd. (collectively, ?Plaintiffs?) seek to prevent legitimate chess-oriented websites from reporting on, discussing, and analyzing one of the major chess matches of the year ? even though the information Chess24 seeks to report on will already be readily available to the public. Plaintiffs attempt to do so by claiming that because they are the organizers and promoters of the chess match they have an intangible, enforceable property right in the facts surrounding that match, and therefore have the exclusive right to publish and report on what the players are doing. The claims made by Plaintiffs run contrary to the well-established law of this Circuit and public policy.

Chess24 points out that World Chess is clearly just trying to do an endrun around well-established copyright law, and that’s a big no-no.

Plaintiffs know that the moves made by professional chess players are precisely the type of factual material that is not protectable by copyright law. But it also cannot be protected under theories of common law misappropriation. The law is absolutely clear in this Circuit that state law claims for misappropriation of unprotectable facts ? including live sports plays ? are preempted by Section 301 of the Copyright Act. In an effort to avoid preemption, Plaintiffs have relied on an extremely narrow exception for so-called ?hot news misappropriation.? That exception plainly does not apply here. In fact, Plaintiffs almost completely ignore the dispositive case in this area — NBA v. Motorola, 105 F.3d 841, 846 (2d Cir. 1996). In Motorola, the Second Circuit expressly rejected the exact same claim that Plaintiffs attempt to argue here, involving almost the exact same factual circumstances. Specifically, that case held that the NBA could not prevent Motorola from attending and watching basketball games and selling play-by-play accounts of the game to its mobile customers. In contrast to this dispositive case law, Plaintiffs are unable to cite even a single case upholding an injunction like the one sought by Plaintiffs in even remotely similar circumstances.

Oh, and also, Chess24 points out to the court that (1) Agon/World Chess just lost a nearly identical case in Moscow and (2) it waited until just days before the tournament in question started to try to force a quick injunction:

Even more telling is the fact that although Plaintiffs have been in litigation with Chess24 in Moscow since March (Plaintiffs recently lost that case), they waited until just four days before the start of the WCC to bring this motion. Plaintiffs? decision to file their lengthy motion at the eleventh hour is not just sharp tactics; it confirms that there is no actual irreparable injury in need of remediation.

There was a hearing in court, and the judge, Victor Marrero, rejected World Chess/Agon’s request for an injunction. As of writing this, the court has only posted the short order without the full explanation, which is expected to be published later. But, given the facts here, it seems fairly obvious why the court rejected the case — and it’s all of the many reasons that Chess24 laid out in its brief.

Hopefully, these companies can finally get it through their heads that you can’t copyright chess.

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Companies: agon, chess24, world chess

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Comments on “Ridiculous Hot News And Copyright Battles As World Chess Seeks To Block Others From Broadcasting Moves”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

It's not who's right, it's who's rich

Hopefully, these companies can finally get it through their heads that you can’t copyright chess.

Legally no, however you can continue to sue one or more companies asserting such so long as you have more resources than them, and either drive them under from legal costs or force them to ‘settle’ to avoid the same, at which point the same effect is attained.

Ours is a legal system where it matters less if the law is on your side so much as ‘Do you have more money than the other person and a willingness to use it?’ Legally they may have no case, but if they can sue the other side into submission and scare anyone else from doing the same the end-result will be the exact same as though they could legally own the facts of a chess match.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's not who's right, it's who's rich

Welcome to the legal poker-game! Real players know how to strategically choose targets to squeeze. Anti-SLAPP is a step against a few of the worst offenders, but the problem is impossible to prevent unless fee-shifting is assertained and/or the damages are massively reduced (works by reducing the incentive for bringing a case to court).

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Big Blue

Anyone want to be that if one of the players was Big Blue that IBM would want to hold the copyright for Big Blue’s moves? It certainly wouldn’t be the programers’, that was a work for hire.

Agon may simply be butt hurt that they don’t have the same kind of control over their ‘events’ that the NFL has over their games. Maybe they should be suing their lawyers over their failure to make the entry form contractually binding with respect to copyright.

Dan (profile) says:

Re: Big Blue

Agon may simply be butt hurt that they don’t have the same kind of control over their ‘events’ that the NFL has over their games.

They shouldn’t be too upset–the NFL doesn’t have the control they think (or at least claim) they have, either. "Any accounts of this game without the express written permission of the NFL are prohibited" is simply a false statement of the law, and I’m equally free to tweet, blog, broadcast, or whatever, my account of any game I choose with no permission whatsoever–and for the same reason that Chess24 won here.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Big Blue

On the other hand they can prevent you from watching the game on TV – imposing blackout areas, choosing what networks show the game, etc.

Let’s not forget the Olympics organization, by virtue of controlling wealth, is infamous for getting venue cities to pass insanely unconstitutional laws on their behalf. You don’t have to enter the grounds to be ordered by police to conform to their conditions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is free to have Stockfish do the analysis and that chess engine would likely curl both of the players backward even if the players played only for a draw and the engine had only a few seconds to find each move. A few decent chess-players can thus comment on the computer evaluations/human moves and be almost as insightful as experts.

Chess is just very easy to cover in cyberspace since the physical arena for the game is almost completely irrelevant. Agon can never make chess on tv that valuable a commodity. Free alternatives are too easy to set up for them to spin a monopoly-value production around it.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, if chess moves were copyright-able, could you force your opponent into a position where the only decent move was one you had played before and therefore had the copyright on which would make your opponent unable to play it without violating copyright and opening himself up to litigation?

That way, you either win the prize money, or your opponent copies your move and you sue him for the amount of the prize money!

I mean, without that copyright protections, no one would have any incentive to play chess!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Interesting line of reasoning. It’s not uncommon for the first N moves of a game to be exactly the same as the first N moves of another game (or many other games) in the past, as players step through a standard opening. So in that case, would BOTH players be infringing on the copyright putatively assigned to that earlier game? And who holds that copyright anyway? The players? The tournament they played in? What if they didn’t play in a tournament, but just for fun? What if what if what if…let’s just say that this way lies madness and accept that these are facts about a competition and are not susceptible to copyright, period, end, full stop, get out of my courtroom.

Anonymous Coward says:

the results

I’ve been following the chess matches at the tournament. Seven draw games with the eight being a win as black by the challenger. The champ was definitely not happy about it.

I’m rooting for the champ and benefit from analysis by third parties after the game. I don’t even go to the world chess website because the games can take hours to play. Two of them have taken 6+ hours already.

Now here’s an idea let’s start a fantasy chess league! 😛

David (profile) says:

I checked out their website.

There’s your problem right there.

Them boys and girls over at Agon Limited* are aiming to develop and commercialize chess – yada yada yada – expand broadcast coverage. And we all know that anyone that broadcasts anything think they own every single little bit of everything related to the efforts of every body but them.

Not because of the law, but because they really, really want to.

* Already attempting to limit possible damage to the principles when the collective is sued.

MN Chess Fan says:

Some excellent coverage and commentary on Chess24.com on the ruling (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/us-judge-agrees-with-chess24-on-chess-moves). In a segment lower on the page, U.S. International Grandmaster, Yasser Seirawan, candidly comments about the blocking efforts and Moscow verdict on chess moves for the Candidates Tournament (the event that determines the World Chess Champion’s opponent).

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