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Here is my specific situation: I have written a novel in which two characters play a game, the moves of which follow exactly a known game between two ranked players in ChessGames.com. Must I get permission from the two real players? Or must I only credit them in the acknowledgments of the novel? Or need I even do that? Any information, especially with legal citations, would be greatly appreciated!

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    I am not aware of any copyright rules. However, any published commentary, creative content, or annotations are possibly copyrightable. This is a lawyer ask. – Tony Ennis Apr 1 '17 at 15:57
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    You should probably take this to law.stackexchange.com. – pipe Apr 1 '17 at 19:49
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    Of interest: chess24.com/en/read/news/… – GloriaVictis Apr 1 '17 at 20:10
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Chess games without annotation can't be possibly copyrighted. You don't need to inform them. You don't need to acknowledge them.

I've been using Carlsen's games (without annotation) for commercial. I literally sell his moves and the games. So far, the world champion has not complained.

Game annotations are protected by the laws. Make sure you only use the game moves.

@itub has some links, such as:

https://chess24.com/en/read/news/us-judge-agrees-with-chess24-on-chess-moves

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    I think this answer really needs backing up by some source. Just because Carlsen doesn't complain, doesn't mean it's legal. – pipe Apr 1 '17 at 19:51
  • This is just terrible. Of course you can copyright chess games - Lasker did it. Only the last paragraph has any credence. – pokep Apr 1 '17 at 22:47
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    @pokep Objective facts are not eligible for copyright protection; that's a pretty well-established bit of copyright law, which occasionally gives rise to counterintuitive consequences. (Look up the concept of deliberate map errors sometime, for example.) "This is the sequence of moves made in this particular game" is a fact. Artistic expression and creative work--such as game annotation--is eligible for copyright protection, but the underlying facts are not. The only thing "just terrible" is someone trying to copyright basic facts. – Mason Wheeler Apr 2 '17 at 0:30
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    @kevin chess games are not copyrightable in all countries. – SmallChess Apr 2 '17 at 2:32
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    @kevin if u think I m wrong. Tell me the country I can copyright Ruy Lopez? – SmallChess Apr 2 '17 at 2:37
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There was a case last year where World Chess Championship sued chess24.com, who was publishing the moves of the games, and my understanding is that the conclusion was that chess moves are not copyrightable (disclaimer: I am not a lawyer!). You can surely find lots of information about this case by googling "world chess lawsuit", but here is a link telling the story in some detail from the defendant's point of view: https://chess24.com/en/read/news/us-judge-agrees-with-chess24-on-chess-moves

See also this article by a law professor: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-11-15/there-s-legal-intrigue-at-the-world-chess-match

  • Unfortunately, the legal principle that is brought up in this particular case is whether the newsworthiness of the event trumps the author's rights. It therefore does not apply to this particular situation, where there is no public interest being served. – pokep Apr 3 '17 at 15:08
  • @pokep I don't think that was the only principle at stake. The judge also wrote "it is well-established that sports scores and events, like players' moves in the Championship, are facts not protectable by copyright". – itub Apr 3 '17 at 18:38
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A usual chess game (i.e., a competitive game between two players) is not copyrightable because there is no identifiable creator of that work (at least, this is the legal situation in Germany).

Annotations of all kind are copyrighted, problem compositions are copyrighted, a constructed game by a single author is copyrighted.

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They probably could be . . .

It is likely that a court would rule that a chess game is an act of authorship and thus could be copyrighted. But to do so, the players - or, more likely, the organizers of the event - would have to take some steps to publish or register the "work". And at some point they would have to take steps to defend the copyright from infringement. But copyrights are expensive to litigate and chess games have little commercial value, so it shouldn't be surprising that there aren't any court precedents (to my knowledge).

But there have been debates outside the courthouse and incidents where publishers refrained from stepping on an event organizer's toes to avoid trouble. Emmanuel Lasker apparently attempted to copyright some of his games - his reward was a press boycott. Eventually the chess community came to the consensus that any attempt to copyright games was bad for the game. For nearly a century the subject rarely came up. But in the last decade or so, there have been several events in which the organizers threatened litigation to prevent others from broadcasting game moves during the event. But I can't find any actual court cases or successful attempt to prevent publication of game scores after the fact.

For the Good of the Game ....

So your ability to use these game moves is due to the fact that generations of players and publishers have worked under a general understanding that we all benefit from being able to publish game scores. As a member of the chess community, you have the moral responsibility to support the chess community and honor the players who have provided you with this gift. Legally, it is uncertain whether you need to attribute the moves to the players, and you take virtually no risk upon yourself if you don't, but if you have a drop of honor in your body, you will give a warm acknowledgement to them in a preface or end note.

As for annotations and commentary . . .

That's a totally different subject, and most annotations may be copyrighted.

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    Under the Berne convention, copyright protection applies automatically, and signatory countries cannot have a law that requires formal registration. So your statement that players/organizers "would have to take some steps" is wrong. – Federico Poloni Apr 1 '17 at 20:14
  • Not quite. You still need to register before you can file a suit, at least in America. And "prompt" registration is required to receive damages. In America, at least, courts tend to not award damages to plaintiffs who took no steps to avoid the harm. – pokep Apr 1 '17 at 21:30
  • @pokep: To be precise, the need to register before filing a suit applies only to works of U.S. origin. For foreign works, things are more complicated, but in general registration is not required. And of course, if the infringement occurs outside the U.S. and you sue in a non-U.S. court, then local copyright laws will apply. And the prompt registration requirement only applies to statutory damages and attorney's fees. – Ilmari Karonen Apr 1 '17 at 22:34
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    Apparently, at least one US Federal District Court has recently ruled that a chess game is not an act of authorship. So as of about four months ago, I'm wrong - at least within the environs of New York City. chess24.com/en/read/news/… – pokep Apr 2 '17 at 0:05
  • I agree that for the good of the game the actual players and the moves in the game in question should be acknowledged in my novel, and I intend to do so. But I would hate to do that if either of the players objected to the use of their moves in a fictional context if they in fact owned copyright and I neglected to get permission beforehand. I suppose I could solve this by simply getting their permission! – quescaisje Apr 2 '17 at 16:46
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I don't think so, what advantage can you take from them? The tournament is the main area which they get benefits from, including ELO recognition. Besides, the important part of in a novel is not much the exact game but the metaphor you find in the game.

That makes it the idea made by you so if you work on the narrative it is your work. Focus on that and you would get the novel done.

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