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Chess enveloped in battle over broadcast rights to showpiece events

Agon, the organiser and commercial rights-holder of the World Chess Championship cycle, has launched legal action against four websites for “blatantly flouting” restrictions on the live broadcasting of the games and moves at the ongoing World Chess Candidates tournament in Moscow, Russia.

The 2016 World Chess Candidates runs from March 10-30 and will determine who challenges reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen (right of picture) at the World Chess Championship in the US city of New York in November.

Agon has introduced a new rights model for this year’s events whereby all video footage, as well as the moves from each game, are shown exclusively at WorldChess.com and by approved broadcast partners in certain countries.

This is a substantial change from the way chess has been broadcasted. Previously it was common practice that all websites were able to receive moves without broadcast limitations.

Agon on Saturday said the Chess24, InternetChessClub, Chessgames and Chessbomb portals have all received, or are about to receive, injunctions demanding that they immediately desist on live broadcasting the moves from the games at the Candidates. Agon claims Chessbomb went as far as to create an app so that people who were viewing the games on the WorldChess website could leak them anonymously.

Ilya Merenzon, chief executive of Agon, said: “We saw a concerted effort to prevent genuine chess fans from around the world from viewing the first round of the Candidates. We don’t know where the attacks originated yet. Could it have been orchestrated by those with a commercial reason to damage our coverage of the Candidates? We simply don’t know.

“However, we hope that the websites that are profiteering from our investment in chess and damaging the commercial future of our entire sport will comply with their legal obligations and cease their live broadcasting of the Candidates.”

Agon said the new centralised approach to the rights is designed to enhance and safeguard the viewing experience for chess fans and to protect the commercial future of World Championship events.

Merenzon added: “If we are to continue to grow the global appeal of chess for the benefit of all fans of the sport, we need to attract and retain further commercial sponsors. In order to do that we need to control how the World Chess Championship cycle is broadcast globally.

“This is simply a way to protect commercial value. It takes enormous money and effort to hold major chess events, and live transmission is a product of that effort. Chess fans will be able to follow the action for free from the Candidates tournament at worldchess.com, but they will have to agree to terms and conditions that include not re-transmitting the moves elsewhere.”

However, Agon’s actions have been met with disapproval from the global chess community. “This is a huge blunder,” wrote Anton Mihailov, chief executive of the Bulgarian-based website chessdom.com. “The moves (are) the very essence of the game itself. It is an element loaded with historical right of freedom, public domain value and global availability. Clearly unaware of the global mechanics in chess journalism and largely ignoring the desire of the chess community, Agon has put the whole world chess championship cycle in jeopardy.”