Copyright in Chess: IP going a bit too far?

Duncan Bucknell (IP ThinkTank)’s Global Week in Review recently highlighted this post on the IP Factor blog which raises some rather entertaining questions pertaining to copyrights. Apparently, the Bulgarian Chess Federation banned ChessBase, among the world’s best chess websites, from broadcasting a game live, citing copyright infringement…

Essentially, as games from top tournaments are played, several websites broadcast the moves – either on an online chessboard, or in written form (for instance, 1. e4 e5. 2. Nf3 Nc6 – the “algebraic” notation widely used for noting chess games). The Bulgarian Chess Federation sought to stop other websites from broadcasting moves live. This raises several issues:

  • Are the moves of a chess game the subject-matter of copyright?

  • In case they are, who does this copyright belong to? The players of the game or the organizers?

  • Would “live” broadcasts of chess games impair any intellectual property of the organizers?

  • Often, professional chess players prepare “novelties” (moves not played before) in their home preparation. Do they have copyright over the “novelties”? For instance, in chess openings analysed deeply, players will know the “theory” several moves deep. They will deviate from “theory” with a deeply-prepared “novelty” – can they claim copyright over their novelty?

  • If they do have copyright over the moves, would the use of those novelties in other games by other players be fair use?

The reputed chess historian, Edward Winter, has written this piece on the history of copyright in chess. The Toronto Star carried a report on the specific controversy here, and another report is available and here. All in all, this seems at first glance to be an instance of intellectual property taken way too far… What do our readers think?


  1. AvatarDivs

    I dont think the moves of a chessgame are susceptible to CR protection. After all the moves are a permutation combination of rules by which the chessmen move.. which are predetermined.. Some might argue the idea-expression dichotomy to be applicable to this permutation/combination.. but isnt the end result aimed at always win/loss/draw/checkmate??? Plus.. i think it is stretching the doctrine a bit too far..

    If there is any IP at all.. it should vest with the guy who created the board, the men and the rules.. however.. I understand that chess evolved from other games such as those played with pebbles and shells.. I dont think an “inventor/developer” of the game can be traced back..

    Further.. IMO, of whatever negligible interest ive had in the game, I felt all chess players follow and keep track of the moves of their mentors… (52(1) (h) may perhaps be drawn in here) Also in some way.. the game since has gained some backing.. has an ingredient of fair use to it.. (52 (m) and (n).. social aspect including games???) and a sense of “sharing” what was achieved out of a “novelty” being introduced in the game!

    If the organizers have any right in the game, i think it is in the nature of broadcasting rights and the appended.

  2. AvatarAnonymous

    Quite agree with Divs. Individual moves cannot be protected. But I think it might be fine to say that the game notation as a whole is a work created by the joint authorship of the players. THe game is an idea; the record of moves as noted is an expression… therefore it is fine to say that the whole game cannot be published elsewhere except as per fair use…

    At the same time, insofar as individual moves are concerned… opening novelties are undoubtedly creative, require huge ammounts of intellectual effort… perhaps they might need some protection!?

  3. AvatarAnonymous

    There has been a court case regarding the live publication of basketball scores in the US. The conclusion was copyright law didn’t apply, so the broadcasting continued freely. I had read in a older discussion that lawyers of the organisation of the Kramnik-Kasparov match deemed the US basketball ruling applicable in the chess situation. And advised against trying to enforce copyright on the moves played.


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