One of the biggest problems that pervasively hinders and restricts the enjoyment of the video game medium is DRM, better known as digital rights management. These restrictive measure is usually enforced by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that prevents people from disabling DRM to distribute a property for consumption. It’s illegal to do so. Well, a specific part of copyright law has been modified to allow for DMCA’s to grant leniency toward abandonware for the purpose of archiving, historical documentation and museum exhibitions.
Blues caught wind of the news from a Kickstarter update by MADE, which is an initiative to help give public institutions the ability to revive old software and circumvent DRM measures if the software has been abandoned and is no longer in circulation, production or available for sale.
MADE, the Museum for Arts and Digital Entertainment, has been working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Archive.org and some game developers to help make steps to protect abandonware initiatives, similar to websites like Home of the Underdogs.
The update on the Kickstarter page is headlined with “We changed copyright law”, stating…
“Just what is this? What does it mean? It means the work we did with the EFF, Stanford, MIT, Archive.org and many game developers, worked! We managed to convince the Librarian of Congress to change the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow developers to circumvent software protections when resurrecting an orphaned work.”
“Here’s the “Explain Like I am Five:” The good news: Individual game owners can modify their copies to keep them playable when authentication servers are shutdown. Archives, museums and libraries can modify TPMs and jailbreak consoles for the purposes of preserving games. If you want more detail, check out pages 52-56 of this link.”
The link leads to a document by the U.S. Copyright Office from the Library of Congress, where it states on page 52….
“Proposed Class 23: This proposed class would allow circumvention of TPMs on lawfully acquired video games consisting of communication with a developer-operated server for the purpose of either authentication or to enable multiplayer matchmaking, where developer support for those server communications has ended.
“This exception would not apply to video games whose audiovisual content is primarily stored on the developer’s server, such as massive multiplayer online role-playing games.”
So no, you could not legally restore Star Wars: Galaxies, City of Heroes or even the oftentimes missed and highly underutilized Tabula Rasa from NCSoft. This would apply to games like Dark Void if Capcom decides to no longer provide DRM support for circulated copies of the software or games like Borderlands if SecuRom servers are no longer functional; games where the content isn’t directly stored server-side for gameplay functionality.
They amended the exemption to further clarify that games with DRM where the servers are no longer in operation can have their security measures circumvented for the sole purpose of preservationist purposes. They state that allowing gamers to have access to circumvention methods for standard console games could encourage piracy, especially if a console would need “jailbreaking”.
The bolded paragraphs on page 55 of the U.S. Copyright Offices document also makes it known that this is only for local gameplay and not for MMO-type functionality…
“Permitting access to the video game to allow copying and modification of the computer program to restore access to the game for personal gameplay on a personal computer or video game console; or…
“Permitting access to the video game to allow copying and modification of the computer program to restore access to the game on a personal computer or video game console when necessary to allow preservation of the game in a playable form by an eligible library, archives or museum, where such activities are carried out without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and the video
game is not distributed or made available outside of the physical premises of the eligible library, archives or museum”
The EFF and ESA have been going back and forth over this issue – with the EFF batting on behalf of MADE – but the Electronic Software Association had been trying to block the EFF from making efforts to Congress about the issue. But thankfully Congress appears to be on the side of gamers.
Now that the change has been modified for the DMCA and copyright law for DRM on abandonware, it’s one small step by The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment and one giant step for video game preservation.