Kifu copyright discussion


Copying game records by hand is not regarded as a copyright violation (an argument for using offshore labor to copy games at 0.05 USD/game?). And a professional player that I know regards his own games as a works to which he and the other player hold copyright. Velobici

Charles Matthews I moved this here, as the author suggested. Using the word kifu does imply here Japanese records. Given the references below to law in the USA, I think I'm going to have to read the 20 page article on Japanese copyright law I've had in my second-tier in-tray for half a year.

Fhayashi: What exactly are the legal rulings on this. Obviously, commentary on a game record should be subject to copyright, but the moves themselves can't possibly be copyrightable, can it? I imagine there must be legal precedent in chess.

Velobici: From conversations that I have had with several people the legal rulings in the United States run as follows:

  • The sequence of moves that comprise a game are not copyrightable.
  • The commentary on that sequence of moves; however, extensive or minimal is copyrightable.
  • A collection of games is copyrightable. (made so by the ordering, the formatting, the selection of which games to include and which to exclude, etc.)
  • One may "copy out" the sequence of moves from a game or collection of games for commercial or private use.

These are based upon case law that has developed over a number of decades, if not a couple (2) centuries.

The items that strike me as inconsistent are:

  • The composer can copyright the musical score. A musician(s) can copyright a performance of a musical score. Yet a Go/Chess player can not copyright either the sequence of moves.
  • The "copy out" referred to above may be done by hand. It may not be done by digital replication of the game database or part of the game database. What is the basis of this distinction? A game (sequence of moves) in SGF format is identical to any other verison of that same game in SGF format (minus the headers that may differ based upon the SGF editor used). Hand copying takes longer for each game. Machine copying takes longer for the first game and each one after that presumably goes much more quickly. The cost of hand copies varies greatly depending upon where the copy is made (offshore hand copies can be very inexpensive indeed). Creating a copy by hand or machine results in an identical copy of the original. The hand copy and the machine copy are indistinguishable from each other and indistinguishable from the original. The set of laws/ruling appear untenable, striving to create a legal distinction where none exists in the physical world. Indeed, how would a court distinguish between hand copies of a game (legal) and machine copies (presumably illegal)?

BobMcGuigan: There was quite a long series of posts on this topic on some time ago, but I don't remember for sure what the conclusion was. I think it was that comments are subject to copyright but the game record is not. Or maybe that is simply current practice in Japan. However there is precedent in another field. I'm thinking of copyright practice in music. A tune in music is simply a sequence of notes. The notes themselves aren't subject to copyright, but the sequence is. Analogously, a single move in go would not be subject to copyright but a sequence of them might be. That would lead to some real messes since we might see copyrighted fuseki, joseki or tesuji which could not be used without paying the copyright holder a royalty. This seems absurd, so probably the sequence of moves in a game cannot be copyrighted. On the other hand, the behavior of the sponsoring newspapers for title tournaments in Japan might give some insight. They used to release game records a few moves at a time, serialized in the newspaper, only allowing the full game record to be released after they were finished with the serialized version. If the game record could be copyrighted there would be no need for this withholding until the serialization was finished.

I don't think an uncommented game can be copyrighted, just the commentary about the game.-TimBrent

BobMcGuigan: Re: Velobici's comments above, copyright of go game records seems to be an issue for international copyright law, not just U.S. law. I imagine the prohibition of machine copies is a (feeble?) attempt to preserve the integrity of collections as a whole since it would be very time-consuming to copy them game by game by hand.

Velobici: That is an interesting idea. Which is true?

  • Copyright law of the country in which the game took place applies.
  • Copyright law of the country in which the game is copied applies.
  • Copyright law of the country in which suit is filed. (How does a foreign judgement get enforced or ignored in another country?)
  • Copyright law of the country in which the entity organizing the match is registered applies.

Seems that small scale copying of game records, not commentary, might be illegal the same way that driving five miles per hour over the limit is illegal....observed more in the breach than in practice. Clearly that must be a motive sufficiently compelling to raise the lawsuit. That motive is most likely lacking. There just isn't enough money in this activity.

Well, I guess it depends on what your perception of the game is. If itīs just a game then copyrighting would be useless. If itīs more like a form of art, then i think that introducing copyrights would be justified.

Trouble is, that, while some matches definitely feel like works of art (even some of my own, even though iīm relatively new to the game, which would suggest that it isn't skill that makes the difference between art and "just-a-game"), others dont seem to qualify. When i play against a computer program for example that feeling somehow doesnt kick in.

But I guess i got a bit sidetracked here... Timber

Icepick: For what it's worth: "Legally the actual moves of any game as played are considered to be in the public domain and not subject to any copyright laws." [ext] British Chess Magazine

And according to [ext] this thread on, factual information reguarding games can not be copyrighted.

Please note: as the thread indicates, the score of a baseball game is "factual information" that can not be copyrighted. A video recording of the play on the field is not "factual information" and therefore can be copyrighted. The explanation given is that to remove copyright from the video recording would interfere livelihood of the players. Certainly, the same should apply to Professional Go players, some of whom make their living solely by tournament play. In addition, the copyright and patent system in the United States is a concession granted by the People of the Republic for a limited period of time to the copyright holder for the purpose of encouraging the development of works and art.

Icepick: Well, a copyrighted video recording is not an exclusive record of a baseball game. A fan with a camcorder can certianally claim that their recording is copyrighted and owned by them, not the team or the players. After all, they fixed the work-in-progress, and it is different than the "offical" broadcast of the event.

Now, the results, either "Cubs win, 5-1 over the Yankees", or "Yoda beat Cho by 3.5", are substantially different than a play-by-play or a complete game record. But both are very different from a video recording. It's an interesting problem.

Speaking of which...are go (or chess for that matter) problems copyrightable? Something like the Heart Shaped Ladder Problem. I'd be inclined to say that they would be.

Charles The link to the BCM interests me more for its insight into the way people are systematically collecting records (is anyone collecting OTB amateur go records?) than as a legal authority.

kritz I'll do a bit of research .. this is interesting ...

(from the US copyright office)

One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords. This right is subject to certain limitations found in sections 107 through 118 of the copyright act (title 17, U.S. Code). One of the more important limitations is the doctrine of “fair use.” Although fair use was not mentioned in the previous copyright law, the doctrine has developed through a substantial number of court decisions over the years. This doctrine has been codified in section 107 of the copyright law.

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

-the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

-the nature of the copyrighted work;

-amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

-the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The distinction between “fair use” and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Copyright protects the particular way an author has expressed himself; it does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in the work.

The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

When it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of “fair use” would clearly apply to the situation. The Copyright Office can neither determine if a certain use may be considered “fair” nor advise on possible copyright violations. If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney.

TJ: I'm not a lawyer, but logically...I would think that a kifu is copyrighted, in that the kifu cannot be directly reproduced (ie:photocopied) without permission of the person who made that kifu...same for sgf files. However, being a record of the events in a game, which events are not subject to copyright, one is free to make their own kifu or their own sgf file from an existing kifu. Using an existing kifu for reference would be passing on factual information not subject to copyright. Commentary/anthologies of games are subject to copyright because they are original works, though the factual information contained within them are not. SGF files are just another means of storing data; copying them directly might be prohibited, but making another shouldn't be covered, since they're only made to contain factual information.

Games cannot be subject to copyright; being a product of conflict (however we like to think of Go as an amicable conversation, it's at least a heated debate), neither player can lay claim to ownership; neither can it be claimed to be jointly owned, since the sides worked at cross purposes and not with the intent of creating the end product.

At least, I would hope these sorts of arguments could and would be presented and accepted by whatever courts are called on to render judgement if some twit decides to be greedy and short-sighted enough to attempt to copyright their games. I'd hope said individual eventually ended up sued for playing a game that turned out to be exactly the same as another professional game 10 years earlier.;)

Hu: Let me play devil's advocate for a bit (against my own strong feelings that the sequence of moves in a public event game such as a pro game or a downloadable server game or a publicly observed server game are public domain).

The two players in a game do not work at cross purposes. Their over-riding purpose is to cooperate according to well established rules and good sporting play. For some players the end product jointly created is the result (win, loss, or "no result"). For others, the end product is the total gestalt of the sequence of moves, for example an aesthetic game or a thrilling game.

Charles There are a number of matters not taken account of, in the cruder opinions. For one thing, only a fraction of pro games played are recorded officially. Players make and keep their own private records of those games.

kritz As I am accustomed to being the devil’s advocate, I'll take the other side ;). Lets say a game with commentary is posted. SL allows/ encourages non-commercial scholarly discussion on the comment/games. So if (in the US) fair use is defined by ONE of: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. And SL Provides All of these, on a non-commercial site, and the monetary value of a single commented game is (fairly?) small, I ask "if this isn't fair use, what is?" (insert standard lawyer disclaimer here) Now back to trying to get my game better.

Hikaru79: I have a question... say I wanted to use a collection of games on my site; for example, the collection that ZeroKun freely distributes. It's about 2000 games that are collected from all over the net. I would have to ask ZK's permission to use that, right? Because according to Icepick's definition, a collection of games is copyrightable by "the ordering, the formatting, the selection of which games to include and which to exclude, etc." But would I have to ask go4go or Gobase's permissions, since that's probably where most of the games came from?

But what if I were to take, for example, Zerokun's collection, and add to it Michael Goetze's collection, a random assortment of my own games, as well as a bunch of the 100+ games collections that are FREE over the internet. Whose permission would I have to ask? It's no longer anybody's collection, since the very definition of a collection (which games to include/exclude) no longer applies. Would I have to ask all of their permissions? Would I have to ask the permission of the places where THEY got the sgf's? (AKA, gobase, go4go, etc)? Or would that constitute my own collection?

dnerra: In a book (in German) published on his [ext] webpage, Karl-Friedrich Lenz analyzes copyright of game records under Japanese Law. He is 5D (kflenz on KGS) and, more important for this question, professor for European and German law in Tokio. (Whereas he is not officially working on Japanese law, this should still make him better-informed than any of the contributors of this page, me included...) He argues it is very reasonable to assume that the players of a go game hold a joint copyright on the game.

Velobici: dnerra's statement above He argues it is very reasonable to assume that the players of a go game hold a joint copyright on the game. seems to be missing the legal jurisdiction in which (under which?) that copyright applies. Perhaps the statement means to indicate He argues it is very reasonable to assume that the players of a go game hold a joint copyright on the game under Japanese law. Actions in one country that are fine may be illegal in many examples: adoption law, reproductive law, inheritance, etc., etc., etc. Which introduces a new question: if records of games played in Japan are copyrighted by the two players (or perhaps the sponsoring newspaper, which may require copyright as a condition of play), does copying that game outside of Japan violate the law of the country in which the copying is done? I would venture to state that the local laws apply making the copying legal when done in a Western country. Importation of the copied game record back to Japan could be illegal. A related matter is music. Quite a lot of music (Elvis Presely Beatles etc.) is soon to be public domain in Europe. Copyright of this material in the US last significantly longer. The music companies are desperately trying to determine how to prevent importation of public domain music from Europe to the US.

Bob McGuigan: There are international reciprocity agreements and treaties related to copyright. I recall that 40 years ago one could get copies of U.S. technical books from Taiwan at a much reduced price because Taiwan apparently did not respect U.S. copyright law. There was no penalty to the Taiwanese for reproducing copyrighted books. However it was illegal to import these copies into the U.S. A., and they could be seized at customs if you went to Taiwan and tried to bring some back. Now these copies are not made because Taiwan has joined some international agreement concerning copyright.

oblivion There are too much differents views on the matter. I wonder: have the Nihon Ki-in, Hankuk Kiwon or Zhongguo Qiyuan ever released some sort of article or statement explaining their position on the subject?

See Also:

jandew? I would say that a copyright on a sequence of moves, being the most ludicrous idea here, even if possible, is not a threat to Go. The copyright (whoever it's owned by) would only be applicable in printings of the move. Using it in play should automatically be fair use, and using it to study/teach others would more than likely be fair use. Since those are the main ways it would be used, the copyright would hardly be useful for the owner, except in printing it out and distributing it for a charge.

Disputing kifu copyrights

What do you think about the problem with game records copyrights?
Lee Sedol has the opinion, that game records must have copyrights of the masters, who played them, and not the Korean Baduk Association. So he refused to sign the paper. Maybe he is wrong, so probably he will sigh this paper in future, as other professionals did before. (from Goama Newsletter #128, translation from an interview with Lee Sanghoon, the older brother of Lee Sedol)

Here is implied that the Hanguk Kiwon claims copyrights for the game records - Lee Sedol claims it for the players... but obviously - we - considered until now there is no copyright for the game record at all. (Since copyright for game records is quite near to license fees for joseki moves or similar absurdities...)

Kifu copyright discussion last edited by jandew on August 19, 2009 - 14:23
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