Digital Preservation in the News: Copyright and Abandonware

Heads up for anyone with an interest in video game preservation…

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is seeking an exemption to the Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies (17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)). The exemption is proposed for users who want to modify “videogames that are no longer supported by the developer, and that require communication with a server,” in order to serve player communities who want to keep maintain the functionality of their games–as well as “archivists, historians, and other academic researchers who preserve and study video games[.]” The proposal emphasizes that the games impacted by this exemption would not be persistent worlds (think World of Warcraft or Eve Online), but rather those games “that must communicate with a remote computer (a server) in order to enable core functionality, and that are no longer supported by the developer.”

The exemption is opposed by the Entertainment Software Association, representing major American (ESA) game publishers and platform providers. The ESA response to the EFF proposal argues that the scope of the proposed exemption is too broadly defined, and that “permitting circumvention of video game access controls would increase piracy, significantly reduce users’ options to access copyrighted works on platforms and devices, anddecrease the value of these works for copyright owners[.]”

In addition to the comments by the EFF, ESA, and their respective supporters, there are also a number of articles which go into much greater detail on this issue.

What do you think? Should there be a legal exemption for modifying unsupported (but still copyright-protected) video games to ensure their enduring usability?

The latest round of public comment on the proposed exemption closes on May 1, 2015. To voice your opinion, follow this link to Copyright.gov, where you can learn more and submit a comment voicing your opinion on this and other existing proposals.

Martin Gengenbach is an Assistant Archivist at the Gates Archive.