EFF Wants a Fair Use-style DMCA Provision
“When you buy a video game, you expect to be able to play it for as long as you want. You expect be able to play it with your kids many years from now if you want (well, maybe not Grand Theft Auto),” writes Harvard law student Kendra Albert. She, with the backing of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is petitioning the US Copyright Office for a modification to the ever-controversial Digitial Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Companies Actively Choose Abandonment, Not Users
Let’s be fair. Companies spend a lot of money developing games. This is why the copyright system in this country allows them to recoup their expenses along with significant profits. But, in the end, consumers spend a lot more money to play said games. Otherwise, there’d be no point. And even in the cases where the companies lose money, well, that’s the name of the game.
No one’s saying that companies protecting their work is necessarily wrong, but when a user purchases a game they have the reasonable expectation that it will keep working indefinitely. After many users move on to other games, however, in case after case, the game companies eventually stop funding the servers that provide online game play and the users are left in the cold. The DMCA currently limits users from modifying games to keep them working, which is similar to saying that you are violating automotive patents when you change your oil or even swap out and upgrade parts. The mechanics of the idea are the same: since you don’t own the rights to this, even though you paid for it, you have no right to keep it working for yourself.
The EFF complaint to the copyright office is eloquent:
Despite the chilling effects of legal uncertainty, there have been some projects that successfully restored gameplay for abandoned games by replacing or bypassing shutdown servers. Many of these projects have been organized outside of the United States. In fact, companies have been created outside the United States to provide multiplayer servers for games no longer supported by their developers.
Not Just Computer Games
The proposal covers a wider range than you might expect, however. We’re not just talking about legalizing Age of Empires and Rise of Nations modifications here. We’re talking about restoring the rights of users who lawfully acquired their software and weren’t ready to quit playing when the company was ready to quit letting them play. The golf course shuts down; you can’t take your clubs elsewhere?
Console games are often hit the hardest by server shutdowns, because players have a limited set of options for connecting to alternate servers, and because console manufacturers sometimes shut down online play for all games on a console at the same time. Still, much of the activity surrounding restoration of play for abandoned games has occurred for PC games. Finally, general purpose mobile platforms, such as Android and iOS,have not seen significant game preservation projects yet, but given the success of game preservation on other platforms and the growth of mobile gaming, improving legal certainty for mobile gaming restoration projects is likely to jumpstart such projects as well.
Hacked will keep you posted as the outcome of this litigation. Going to the administrator of the law rather than to the lawmakers is a much quicker way to get results. Conceivably, if such becomes intractable, the EFF may have to sue the government to get things in a more reasonable state.
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