The Lid is Blown off on the USCF Chess Rulebook Controversy

The following is an important message which Hal Terrie, a member of the USCF Rulebook Committee, has posted to the chess newsgroups. This message concerns a controversy about the Tim Just - Dan Burg Rules of Chess. The background is that the current edition of the USCF Rules of Chess is terribly outdated because of the great increase in the usage of sudden death time control rules which guarantee that all tournament games end within a fixed time limit so that it can be known when the subsequent rounds will start. These sudden death time control rules have been implemented through various kinds of new clocks, including Time Delay, Fischer and Bronstein clocks which are made by various manufacturers of chess clocks, all of which work differently and have different settings. There are very few if any tournament organizers who are familiar with all the varieties of clocks and how to set them.

For this reason, there has been for several years an increasing demand for a new USCF Rulebook. There has been a lot of money involved in this too, because the USCF Rulebook has traditionally been the biggest selling title the USCF has. If any private individual had the right to obtain royalties from the publication and sale of the USCF Official Rulebook, that would be lucrative indeed for the person who has the right to receive these royalties.
Tim Just
Tim Just

Whether the USCF can grant a copyright on the Rules of Chess to a private individual is a legal question, however.

It appears that some time last year, then USCF Executive Director George DeFeis, who is now known to be a man suffering from severe mental retardation, but who has a nice personality and managed to convince the notorious Redman Gang that he was a qualified person, made a deal with Tim Just to write a new USCF Rulebook. Tim Just later brought his friend Dan Burg into the deal, and it is now said that Tim Just owns 55% of the copyright on the book and Dan Burg owns the other 45%. However, nobody has seen the finished book, except for Tim Just. He apparently has not even shown it to Burg. Burg is a copyright lawyer who has apparently made implied threats to sue the USCF if the Just-Burg Rules are not promptly published as the Official USCF Rules of Chess. This is a hot situation, because Tim Just is a tournament organizer and he could write the rules in such a way as to put rival organizers out of business. For example, Tom Dorsch often advocated rules which would put Bill Goichberg, the biggest chess tournament organizer in America, out of business. Rules that would put Goichberg out of business might include a requirement that an arbiter stand at the board and keep score and count the moves in a time control situation or might abolish class prizes for example.

With Tim Just holding his rules tight to the belt and not allowing anybody to see them, we have no way of knowing what major changes Tim Just might have made. In one of his letters last week, Tim Just wrote:

"Dan and I made a lot of changes. I have to agree, the USCF may have dropped the ball when it came to signing a deal with Dan and I; however, it is now a matter of law. An important point to remember is that the law has nothing to do with common sense or morality. Like the rulebook it has to do with crossing a "t" or dotting an "i". The USCF has lost a lot of money by not realizing that fact."

The lid has twice been blown off this situation by Hal Terrie. Terrie first reported this problem on the chess newsgroups on March 28 and March 29. Then, yesterday, Hal Terrie reported that the contract between Tim Just and the USCF for the USCF Rulebook has been cancelled. Here is Terrie's latest letter:

On Fri, 26 Apr 2002 04:45:53 GMT, (Hal Terrie) wrote:

"You want drama? Well, here's some for you. I don't like to violate what might be considered confidentiality but some things are too important to be left to behind the scenes maneuvering.

"In an e-mail to the Rulebook Advisory Committee tonight, Tim Just reports that Frank Niro has "cancelled" the rulebook contract. Tim has the only copy of the finished book on his computer. Implied but not stated in the e-mail is that without a contract, he feels no obligation to deliver that file to anyone. So, as of now there is no 5th edition of the rulebook.

"Congratulations to Eric, Bruce and the others who have stirred up such a fuss over what has been standard procedure for producing a new rulebook. It looks like you have nearly succeeded in destroying two years of work.

"I suggest to Frank Niro that he has allowed himself to be influenced by a few loud voices here on this newsgroup. I believe that the vast majority of Delegates are fully prepared to accept a finished rulebook by August, that the interested ones will attend the Rules workshop for a brief review of the new book and that a Delegate Motion to accept the new book and thank the authors will pass overwhelmingly, with little debate. Reconsider this "hard line" approach before this nonsense passes the point of no return.

" -- Hal Terrie"

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