USCF RULEBOOK CONTRACT

by John Hillery

Now that weíve seen the full text of the Rulebook contract, it is clear that, while it may not be a very good deal for the USCF, the alarmist claims made by some commentators were grossly exaggerated.

There is no question of Tim Just obtaining rights to later editions of the Rulebook. Section 21 explicitly states that the USCF may publish new Rulebook after five years with an Editor of its choice, and that Timís rights extend only to royalties from this edition while it remains in print. Iím not sure a contract lasting "in perpetuity" is legally binding -- after the copyright runs out anyone could republish the book without payment -- but it hardly matters, since no one is going to be interested after the next edition comes out.

Some have also raised the question of ownership of copyright and "work for hire." Section 3 of the contract states:

3. REPRESENTATIONS AND WARRANTIES
i. The Publisher shall obtain permission to publish the laws of chess adopted by the international chess body FIDE and in effect at the time of publication of the Work. The Publisher shall obtain permission to use the title "U.S. Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess" and the text of any and all previous editions of the Work from the previous publisher(s).

The important wording here is obtain permission, rather than transfer copyright. You cannot obtain copyright to something previously published by incorporating it into a new work and filing with the Copyright Office. Tim will have the rights only to what he wrote himself. The USCF will be contractually prevented from publishing a competing work, which is not at all the same thing as transfer of copyright.

The law distinguishes individual and collective copyright as follows: "Copyright to each separate contribution to a collective work is distinct from copyright in the collective work as a whole, and vests initially in the author of the contribution. In the absence of an express transfer of the copyright or of any rights under it, the owner of copyright in the collective work is presumed to have acquired only the privilege of reproducing and distributing the contribution as part of that particular collective work, any revision of that collective work, and any collective work in the same series."

I agree that the contract is disproportionately favorable to the Editor, and I doubt that any experienced publisher (or lawyer) would have agreed to it. For example, the Publisher can abrogate the contract only for nondelivery -- not for unsatisfactory performance. Taken to an extreme, this would imply that the Editor could put in a clause requiring players to wear clown suits, and the Publisher would have to accept it. (Though I imagine a court would eventually throw it out.) Also, the royalty levels seem awfully high. But none of this makes the contract improper; it only means that the then-leaders of the USCF negotiated a bad deal. The proper response is to throw the rascals out ... but, then, thatís already been done.

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