04 September 2012

Where Do You Draw the Line?

August must have been Chess IP month. At the beginning of the month we had C.N. 7743: A reminder, from Chesshistory.com:-

A reminder should hardly be necessary, but readers are requested not to help themselves to whatever they please on the Chess Notes pages. [...] Nor does Chess Notes exist to offer a free scanning service for photographs (some of which we have acquired at considerable expense) to individuals who lack the relevant archive resources of their own. Finally, it is regrettable that discoveries and other information presented in Chess Notes (including valued contributions from correspondents) are often re-posted by people in a way which suggests that they themselves unearthed the material. Attention to these elementary points of fair play will be much appreciated.

A few weeks later we had Lubomir Kavalek on Huffingtonpost.com in Heavy Lifting, where 'lifting' is used in the same sense as shoplifting:-

Plagiarism was in the news lately and chess has its own champions. They use other people's material without attribution and present it as their own. To put it less elegantly, the offenders blatantly, unscrupulously and dishonestly steal work from other authors.

Kavalek's comments were picked up and expanded upon in ChessCentral's Blog, Piracy and Plagiarism in Chess:-

In the role of publisher, ChessCentral has produced many fine print books and e-books found in our catalog. Unfortunately, each passing year exposes more web sites that choose to sell, share or give away our copyright protected property, our books and articles.

Although I'm not in the same class as those three heavyweights, I've also had my material appropriated. I commented on it in 2007, An Amazing Coincidence, and 2008, Look What Google Dragged In. I have found so many other examples that I am no longer surprised. That second post touched on the role of Wikipedia in lowering the bar on protection of intellectual property (IP), a point I made again in a post earlier this year on The Wikipedia Blackout.

The Google book project was another massive effort which trampled on existing norms around IP. Google's attitude appears to have been 'let's just do it until someone says no', an approach they have used in many of their ground-breaking services, often with success. The publishing industry screamed, 'No!', and the service is severely crippled.

In contrast to Wikipedia and Google, both of which provide services that far outweigh their initial, willful ignoring of other's IP, sites like Pirate Bay, Megaupload, and even WikiLeaks wouldn't exist if you removed all traces of copyrighted material. The operators of these sites simply sneer at any suggestion that they might be doing something wrong, knowing that they have legions of fanatical users who will defend them to the last download. You can be sure of a vitriolic argument any time the right to copy indiscriminately is challenged.

But where do you draw the line? Although I always attribute material I use from elsewhere, I sometimes exceed 'fair use' in the quantity of text that I reproduce. I also use photos without permission, but again, always attributed. When I worked for the commercial site About.com, I adhered to their rules and avoided this. In the noncommercial blogosphere, the right to reuse is taken for granted.

For a particularly egregious example of copyright infringement beyond 'fair use', look at susanpolgar.blogspot.com, the 'Susan Polgar Chess Daily News and Information : Bringing you updated, timely, fair, and objective chess daily news and information from around the globe'. Most of the material on Polgar's blog is lifted from other sources, usually with attribution to the domain of the source, but not to the specific page. The former Women's World Champion has been doing this for years and I never seen a single condemnation from Chesshistory.com, GM Kavalek, ChessCentral, or any other publisher of digital material. I suppose that, like me, everyone is glad to have this defacto digital archive, which is useful for historical chess research of the recent past.

Another example of an unclear line between fair use and not-so-fair use came to light in the announcement this past week that The Week in Chess and the London Chess Centre end their 14 year sponsorship agreement:-

It has been frustrating to see the London Chess Centre and myself get relatively little benefit from the production of the magazine while various commercial services have used it as a starting point for their paid for products.

A good summary of TWIC's tremendous value can be found in That was The Week in Chess that was, on Steve Giddins' Chess Blog:-

Virtually every serious chessplayer, from Garry Kasparov downwards, has begun his Tuesday morning by downloading the latest TWIC and updating his personal database with the latest instalment of games. In many cases, the number of games runs into the thousands. Every chess magazine editor I know of uses TWIC to compile his magazine's round-up of the main national and international results.

The irony here is that TWIC has its greatest value when used for further reference. What use is an end product of thousands of games plus dozens of crosstables unless it's part of a larger database? To bring this discussion full circle, the same note from Chesshistory.com that I referenced earlier mentioned,

We wonder too when a certain Canadian grandmaster will remove from his website our copyrighted material, including the 2,000-word article A Catastrophic Encyclopedia.

The original article is A Catastrophic Encyclopedia by Edward Winter, and the offending material is A Brutal book review, dated 2011 by Spraggett on Chess. The rebuttal from GM Spraggett appeared in a post asking TWIC in its final days?:-

A well-known website dealing with the history of chess, its players and lesser known facts feels it has a right to copyright material, photos and interviews that it finds in old newspapers and magazines. Does it have any right to do this? Does it have the right to demand that I not display such photos and interviews because it says it has a copyright? I think not. I hold the view that until these and related issues are settled in a more internet-global context, we -- as consumers -- are free to do as we please with most of the chess-related universe that we find for free on the 'net'.

This is the Pirate Bay / Megaupload / WikiLeaks justification reduced to the dimensions of the chess world. Even on this small scale, where do you draw the line? The risk is that, like TWIC, the creators of all that wonderful material will cease to create.

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