25 August 2015

Ethics in Chess Journalism

Here's the scenario: 'A' runs a popular web site devoted to an important aspect of chess history. 'B' copies large portions of the web site to create a book which is sold commercially. 'C' notices the excessive copying and publishes an article exposing the act. 'B' makes a formal complaint to the world chess federation, citing 'C's alleged unethical behavior; the complaint is rejected. 'D' notices the official record of the complaint and mentions it in passing, without understanding its history. Years later, 'C', who was never notified of the complaint against him, discovers 'D's writeup and sets the record straight.

Here's the cast of characters: 'A' is Wojciech Bartelski of Olimpbase.org. 'B' represents the Turkish Chess Federation. 'C' is Dr. Daaim Shabazz of TheChessDrum.net, writing Olympiad book copied from Olimpbase.org?. 'D' is me (D is I?), writing Ethics and Cheating, about FIDE's Ethics Commission.

Dr. Shabazz has documented the entire affair in a recent post, Turkish Chess Federation vs. Dr. Daaim Shabazz (2012). See in particular the link to the 'Official Complaint of Turkish Chess Federation' (PDF), which is almost surreal. The Ethics Commission should perhaps have contacted Shabazz about the complaint, but this was, at worst, a procedural lapse.

By coincidence, I was in touch with Wojciech Bartelski this past weekend and asked him what he thought. He replied,

My database grows courtesy of hundreds of volunteers who devote their time and offer money to build up the database. This is why everybody has and will always have free access to it and permission to use the data. Of course this has nothing to do with simple copy and paste of my own texts.

Of course English is not my native language and texts are not verified by professionals so there must be errors and awkward phrases in there. They charged €28 per book and did not even hire a professional [editor] to correct buggy text!

To this he added, 'Litigation and other legal actions are open questions.' I'm familiar with several cases of copyright violation in chess literature and understand that any civil awards are not likely to produce a windfall, perhaps not even covering the cost of legal action. Perpetrators of copyright violation also know this and it is their first line of defense.

The Ethics Commission is a wonderful resource for righting the wrongs of international chess. In covering their activities I am glad to have rendered a small service to chess journalism and will continue to do so.

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