REDMAN BOARD CONTRACTS: STILL PROBLEMS
Interim ED Frank Niro and the Executive Board are still hampered by unwise contracts signed by former ED De Feis under the previous Board, but are working to minimize the damage.
The contract with Games Parlor to "provide free online play" to USCF members via US ChessLive cost the federation over $100,000 during the past fiscal year, with no noticeable benefit resulting- not surprising, as there are many other free online play services (and many USCF members prefer a paid service, ICC). De Feis signed a two year contract extension a year ago, with terms even more favorable to Games Parlor. The new Board renegotiated this contract to remove about 70% of the cost, and Niro has recently served notice to Games Parlor that they are in breach of the contract and that USCF will terminate it if the breach is not cured within 30 days. If the termination holds up, this could open up a great opportunity for the federation, which would become free to negotiate non-exclusive deals with other online play providers.
Another rather astonishing contract that has recently surfaced is one signed by De Feis appointing Tim Just to edit the 5th Edition of the Official Rules of Chess. The hiring of Just to revise this book was controversial, as not only the three editors of the 4th Edition (who had received no pay or royalties) but also the co-chair of the Rules Committee and the recently departed USCF Technical Director had all volunteered to edit the book at no cost to USCF. Just was apparently the only one expressing interest who demanded a fee, yet he was hired by the Redman Board at a meeting during which many Board members warned that the federation faced grave financial problems.
Originally it was estimated that Just's committee, which included Dan Burg and Carol Jarecki, would be paid $7000. This was based on an estimate by De Feis that the rulebook would sell 6,000 copies. Jarecki had said that she did not require payment (Redman told her to endorse her check back to USCF as a donation), and she then resigned from the committee in the fall of 2000 in protest over the firing of Barbara DeMaro. She was not replaced. Now we hear from the publisher that 18,000 to 20,000 copies is a more likely sale. Under Just's contract, this would mean royalties for the editors in the neighborhood of $25,000. The two remaining editors have agreed to split these royalties with 55% for Just and 45% for Burg- quite a healthy reward for a relatively minor revision job, just a small fraction of the work I and the other 4th Edition editors did without pay in doubling the size of the rulebook last time around.
It's strange enough that the Redman Board went out of its way to pay so much when so many expert volunteers were available, but the Just contract goes even further. Incredibly, it specifies that USCF can make no changes without Just's approval- in effect, giving Just control over the USCF rules! Past rulebooks, and rules changes in general, have always required Delegate approval. Another clause in the Just contract prohibits USCF from coming out with a subsequent edition for at least five years, presumably to insure that his royalties keep flowing.
Perhaps worst of all, there is this
6. .... The Parties recognize that the Editor is an independent contractor and that the work is not a work for hire made under the copyright laws of the United States.
Why would the rulebook not be a "work for hire made under the copyright laws of the United States"? The only reason I can think of for including such language is to allow Just to try to claim ownership of USCF's copyright. And indeed, I have heard that he is making such a claim, though I have not seen this in writing. It's interesting that his committee member Dan Burg is reported to be a copyright attorney. Burg was once an active TD and helped with the 4th Edition, but seems to have been out of chess for many years, and did not participate in the email rules discussions with about 20 advisors that are the basis for most 5th Edition revisions. Perhaps we now see why Burg is scheduled to receive 45% of the royalties- as payment for legal work with the objective of obtaining USCF's copyright.
The 4th Edition states, "Copyright 1975, 1978, 1987, 1993 by UNITED STATES CHESS FEDERATION." Ownership of this copyright is a valuable USCF asset. Bad enough that the federation will find it difficult to make profit selling the 5th Edition because of the unnecessary royalties, but the idea that Tim Just might own the copyright, and not only control the 5th Edition rules, but control and profit from all future USCF rulebooks, is simply ludicrous.
Fortunately, the contract may be terminated by USCF without cause, by paying the editors a fee which is much less than their expected royalties. Niro has requested that Just recognize the right of USCF to revise the book, and the ownership by the federation of the copyright. He is waiting for a reply from Just. If Just refuses to modify the contract, it seems likely that USCF will cancel it.