Bulgarian organizers take Chessbase to court

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Bulgarian organizers take to court Chessbase for broadcasting the Anand-Topalov gamesThe Bulgarian organizers of the Anand-Topalov World Championship match take Chessbase to court for "violating copyright rules". Chessbase transmitted the moves of the match live on their Playchess server, against the will of the Bulgarians.

During the Anand-Topalov World Championship match it already became clear that the organizer were planning to take legal action against Chessbase for transmitting the moves of the match live on Playchess. On May 27th the Bulgarians filed a case at a court in Berlin, and Chessdom has now quoted Silvio Danailov on the matter:

Silvio Danailov"Before the start of the World Chess Championship we explicitly stated that no company can use the moves without the official site's staff permission. And this was violated by Chessbase, they put themselves above the law in Europe, above the general FIDE ethical rules. (...) I believe in European law and in our Attorney who is presenting the case - Mr. Rainer Polzin. What's more, I am candidate for President of the ECU and as such I have to stand behind the rights of professional chess. Such actions, as the one by the German company Chessbase, affect the sponsors of events negatively, which damages sponsorship, from there future organization and level of events. In the long run the biggest damage is made on the chess fans, who are the most important part of the game - they certainly deserve to enjoy high level events and have chess sponsorship on all levels. Thus, by defending our rights through European law, we will be defending all fans and the future of chess."

In an article by Dnevnik, Danailov states that the Bulgarians would expect to win at least 500,000 euros from this court case.

The attorney of the Bulgarian organizers, GM Rainer Polzin, has a law firm in Berlin. We asked him for some more details. He told us:

Rainer Polzin"The case has been filed at a court in Berlin [Landgericht - CV]. The action is partly based on the German Copyright Law, which is based in the protection of databases mainly to European directives. The EU directive (EU Directive) 96/9/EC of 11 March 1996 will play an important role.

Further claims from the Competition Law will be invoked. It is essentially a question of whether the live acquisition of content from a website, which is funded by sponsors, put onto another website, with the intention of generating profits, is admissible.

There have been some cases in Germany on broadcasting rights of football matches. But there it's clear what is copyrighted: photos, moving pictures and radio reports. The problem for the clubs is when reporters without prior permission for sale, after buying a ticket, make photos or videos. These are fascinating cases. But it's not comparable with our case, as ChessBase had no reporters in Sofia."

Media rights The organizers of the Anand-Topalov World Championship match, which took place in Sofia, Bulgaria last month, managed to collect a prize fund of 3 million Euros: 2 million for the players, 400,000 for FIDE taxes and 600,000 for organizational costs. In an attempt to earn back at least part of that money, they tried to sell the rights to cover the event to other media. For instance, the Bulgarian national TV channel are said to have paid the organizers to have the right to film the players with cameras inside the playing hall.

The organizers also attempted to sell the media the right to transmit the games live on the internet. Silvio Danailov, the manager of Veselin Topalov but also one of the main figures responsible for the organization of the match, told ChessVibes a few weeks before the match that we needed to pay 15,000 Euros if we wanted to transmit the games live. Although we weren't sure about the legal situation, we were not inclined to fight this over court. Chessbase apparently was. All twelve games could be followed on the Playchess server.


During the match, the official website transmitted the games live on a page with a standard DGT game viewer. Below the viewer, the following note was seen throughout the match:

Warning! It is absolutely prohibited the live broadcast of the moves or video during the game on other websites, media or software without the explicit permission of the organizers of the match. This prohibition is being violated by ChessBase.

Earlier warnings It was not the first time the Bulgarian organizers did this. The same warning was placed on the official website of the Topalov-Kamsky match, also held in Sofia in February 2009. Back then the Bulgarians "won", since after being threatened with a law suit, Chessbase did stop transmitting the games. Arne wrote a column in which he discussed philosophical, legal and historical aspects of the issue. It led to 127 comments.

Meanwhile, we discovered that already in 2006 a similar note was published on the website of the MTel tournament:

(Sofia, May 13, 2006) Pirates broadcast the super chess tournament M-Tel Masters in internet. The biggest game server in the world ICC ( announces the live broadcast of the moves from the games in the tournament. The transmission is being done by using signal from the official web site of M-Tel Masters 2006 –, which is violation of the copyrights of the organizes of the competition.

Interestingly, the Bulgarian organizers first attacked ICC, but in recent years they only seem to point their attack to the German company Chessbase. It's well known that the relationship between the Bulgarians and Chessbase has become very bad, especially after a video was embedded by Chessbase on February 11th, 2007 that was claimed to show "assistance given to the world's top-rated player Veselin Topalov during his games".

Why only Chessbase? We asked Silvio Danailov why other media, like ICC, Chessdom, Susan Polgar and Crestbook (Sergey Shipov) were not taken to court. He answered:

Silvio Danailov"With Chessdom we have commercial agreement signed. Susan Polgar and Sergey Shipov I respect very much. Both are excellent professionals, doing a lot for chess, making it more popular. They are not commercial and don't resell the games. Having in mind all this, they had our permission. With ICC I have long collaboration with mutual interest for both sides. But I explained already before that this is the last time; next time they should paid like everybody else."

Danailov added that the situation in the US is complicated, and would probably ask for more research, and more attorneys.

Motorola vs NBA We asked John Henderson of the Internet Chess Club (ICC) about their experience with events wanting to copyright the games. He answered "Many threatened but never followed through" and then referred to the "Motorola vs NBA case", which to his knowledge basically settled matters until now in the States.

In that case, from 1997, the National Basketball Association demanded the exclusive right to transmit scores of basketball games, which Motorola was doing with their "Sports Trax" pagers. These were electronic devices which transmitted the scores, ball possession, and time remaining. Motorola obtained those scores by using public information, e.g. by watching basketball games on TV. Initially, in a New York court, the case was won by the NBA (comparable to the Bulgarian organizers). However, later Motorola (comparable to Chessbase) won the case, at the United States Court of Appeals For the Second Circuit.

Last year, the Staunton Memorial didn't even make its games available for free live; visitors had to pay five pounds to watch the tournament games. One and a half years ago, the organizers of the World Championship match in Bonn, between Anand and Kramnik also attempted to prevent other media from broadcasting the game live (they only allowed the broadcast elsewhere with half an hour delay), to benefit as much as possible from their new broadcasting system Foidos. This never became a commercial success.

Copyright: an old issue The copyright-over-chess-moves issue is about as old as the game itself. During the very first big, strong, international chess tournament, London 1851, rule number 12 said:

"As the managing committee guarantee to every subscriber of a guinea and upwards, a correct copy of the whole games, and as considerable expense must attend the recording of so many games and their subsequent publication, it must be understood that no-one will be allowed, in the first instance, to publish any part of them without the express sanction of the committee." Source: Chess Notes

In many later disputes, the main point was always that if anyone would own the copyright over a game, it was the players themselves. The contract over the 1886 Steinitz-Zukertort match included a clause that gave the property right in the record of all games played in the match to each player. In negotiations for a match with Capablanca as early as 1911, Lasker wanted to claim the rights personally, because of his "activity in chess extending over more than 20 years". As was also pointed out by Arne in his column, Capablanca's point of view has always been taken as the general rule:

"A chess game, from its very nature and the manner of its production, must be the joint property of the two persons producing it ... You can charge what you like for the publication of the games in any form you may deem to your advantage. But, unfortunately, that is a common privilege, of which anyone may take advantage." Source: Chess Notes

Asked whether he thought the Bulgarian organizers had a chance, attorney Rainer Polzin answered us:

"Chances are good. You never know in court cases, but I'm a chess player. I don't make a move when I know my opponent can mate me in one or two moves."

Naturally we also asked Chessbase to comment on the lawsuit, but thus far we didn't receive an answer from them.
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