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What chess databases allow commercial use without having to reveal source code as part of their license? I see a few chess databases online, even the huge databases on lichess. I wonder which of these can be used as part of a commercial project without having to worry about licenses and unfair usage.

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I don´t think chess games are copyrightable, as they´re just a collection of facts, so games of chess are not considered by the courts to be anyone´s property. I would say that you are free to comercially reproduce a game, as long it´s just that, the moves played in that game.

To put in perspective, if you took a screenshot of the result of a videogame, for example Civilization, or if you recorded a song in Guitar Hero, then that would be the intellectual property of the creating videogame company. Following that pattern, any PGN would be the legal property of whoever invented chess, but I believe the copyright may have expired by now.

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  • I disagree. Some games are really creative. I expect they would be considered a joint work of both players. Creating the PGN would not produce copyright, as you are only recording the moves of the game (I'm assuming there are no annotations), but the game itself might be copyrightable. A game is a sequence of moves, just as a novel is a sequence of words. But they can be beautiful, ugly, non-sensical... and perhaphs copyrightable
    – Ángel
    Dec 4 '20 at 0:05
  • They´re beautful indeed, but in the mind of the beholder. And for practical purposes, what is the game itself if not a sequence of reproducible events? Dec 4 '20 at 0:08
  • It seems quite unlikely that a chess game would be considered a literary work by two authors. While the two authors are possible, chess game 'authors' are not cooperating, but competing: something that does not occur anywhere else, as far as I can think of. Consider 'V for Vendetta'by Moore and Lloyd: what would it be if the authors did not cooperate, but competed.
    – user24765
    Dec 4 '20 at 12:42
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It sounds like what you want is a free database which is not copyrighted and not licensed. The best one I know of that fits that bill is Caissabase. It is a free download with no license and this explicit statement of no copyright:

Legal/Copyright Where I live facts are not copyrightable, Chess moves played in a game are facts.

You'll notice there are no comments on any of the games as comments are copyrightable.

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