I’ve watched most of the World Chess Championships without ever actually witnessing Magnus Carlsen or Sergey Karjakin make a single move. As fun as it would be to watch the two grandmasters squirm and fret while contemplating their moves, you only need to know where each player’s pieces are to follow the game. You can pay $15 for a streaming pass, or you can do what hundreds of thousands of viewers do, and watch a stream of a simulated version of the game, complete with a virtual board and commentators.
Chess24 is the most prominent of these sites that rely on so-called “robust reporting” to broadcast the moves made in the World Chess Championships more or less live without actually being in the room. I’ve been watching Jan Gustafsson and Peter Svidler yak for a few hours in front of a board that’s updated almost immediately when a move is made. In between moves, they debate and try out a series of hypothetical strategies.
For fans, watching something like this is a no-brainer compared to paying for an official stream. If you’re a basketball fan or a soccer fan, you can find illegal streams and avoid paying, but those streams are sporadic and of lower quality. It doesn’t really matter what the video quality is on a chess broadcast because it’s chess. There are no highlights. In the official stream, you can watch the game in VR and it comes with a bunch of well-designed graphics, but those features are still rather superfluous. As you might imagine, World Chess is not happy with chess24.
The day before the World Championships started, World Chess sued chess24 for $4.5 million in U.S. District Court. They also sought a temporary restraining order that would have kneecapped their ability to broadcast during the championship match. A judge heard arguments and ruled for chess24 that day. On Wednesday, the court released judge Victor Marrero’s full decision, in which he ruled that chess24's broadcasts were original enough to be legally tenable:
First, World Chess has failed to demonstrate that Defendants would be pirating, by live redistribution on their websites, the reports of chess moves that World Chess would produce and distribute. The Court is not persuaded that Chess24 would be taking content from World Chess and merely “free-riding” or republishing the information for Chess24's own subscribers. Rather, the evidence presented indicates that Chess24 digests factual information about the Championship from secondary sources and creates its own website content at great expense.
Chess24's lawyers cited a decision that went against the NBA after they sued Motorola for providing live commentary and results from NBA games in 1997 (before that sort of thing was routine). World Chess lost a similar decision in a Moscow court last month, so their goose is cooked. The crux of all three decisions was that chess moves (or in the NBA’s case, scores and results) are not “protectable by copyright.”
Fans of chess24 will also probably have a lot more chess to watch soon, as Magnus Carlsen won Game 10 yesterday after six-and-a-half hours to even the score up at five. There’s now a 52 percent chance that the match heads to tiebreakers, which means that the players will face off under rapid chess rules, where they have even less time to make their moves.
You can read the full decision below.