Court Won’t Curtail Chess Tourney ‘Free-Riders’

By Christine Stuart

MANHATTAN (CN) – The World Chess Championship kicked off in New York City this weekend without an injunction to keep so-called free-riders from pirating real-time reporting of the games.

World Chess US had wanted a restraining order or other form of relief to prevent the misappropriation of its “hot news,” but U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero denied the company relief at a hearing Thursday afternoon in Manhattan.

With a prize fund of at least 1 million euros on the line, World Chess had noted that the championship of the grandmasters at South Street Seaport was expected to attract a large global audience.

The championship began on Nov. 11 and will run through the end of the month, with Magnus Carlsen of Norway defending his world-champion title against the challenger, Sergey Karjakin of Russia. World Chess is publicizing the championship with the Federation Internationale des Échecs – recognized by the International Olympic Committee as “as the supreme body responsible for the organization of chess and its championships at global and continental levels,” the complaint states.

World Chess brought its Nov. 7 complaint in the Southern District of New York against Chessgames Services and two other businesses, E-Learning and Logical Thinking, behind a website called Chess24.

Claiming that “these free-riders offer a pirated product at a cheaper price,” World Chess says the most valuable aspect of hosting and generating content for a chess tournament is the ability to profit from publication of the chess moves and to publish the moves in real time.

“The misappropriation of the chess moves not only devalues the dissemination of such events, it also threatens the continued viability of chess tournaments and the enjoyment of such events by chess fans around the world,” the Nov. 7 complaint states.

Chessgames was on notice of World Chess’ rights when it announced on Oct. 31, 2016, that it would provide live coverage of the championship, the complaint says, advertising that its website would let users “watch the games as they happen.”

Chess24 had a similar line on Nov. 3, 2016, “follow every twist in the tale here on chess24,” according to the complaint.

“Defendants’ free-riding on World Chess’s extensive efforts in organizing, publicizing, and webcasting the championship is likely to undermine World Chess’s economic incentive to invest in the costly organization of chess tournaments and the real-time dissemination of chess moves,” the complaint states. “The predictable result of the Defendants’ piracy is that chess tournaments will be mounted less frequently and dissemination of news in the form of updates and commentary on those matches will be degraded.”

The complaint says the defendants will either send a person to the championship to report the moves from inside the room, or they have subscribed to the service for real-time chess moves and are copying the information in violation of the terms of use.

In addition the its unsuccessful bid for a restraining order, World Chess had sought at least $4.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages, plus “disgorgement to World Chess of the profits made by defendants.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Robert LoBue of Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler LLP.

Marrero’s order was entered in the court file on Nov. 14.

CBS reported that the championship is the first held in the United States in 21 years.

The first three games – on Friday, Saturday and Monday – all ended in a draw, reports say.

Pirating is not a new problem for the World Chess Tournament.

In 1925, William Henry Watts of the British Chess Federation, said: “Under our existing arrangements a few papers send their reporters and reproduce a game – other papers which do not go to the expense, copy this game from the first newspaper, knowing that is free ‘copy’ … The fact remains that there is an untapped source of revenue and one which is properly … developed should go far to provide the means towards holding” more frequent chess tournaments.

Back then, international chess tournaments were often separated by 20 years.

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