US Library of Congress grants DMCA exception for preserving online games

    
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It’s a win for the good guys, at least if you figure the good guys are on the side of preserving video game and MMO history, and we do: The Video Game Museum announced today that it’s finally able to legally preserve all video games, even the online ones.

“The US Copyright Office has granted our DMCA exemption to allow us to preserve online games! All of that hard work has paid off! Big thanks to UC Berkeley, David Petchey, and James Clarendon who testified on our behalf.”

Some backstory: Way back in 2015, we began reporting on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s successful petition seeking exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow video game preservationists the authority to break DRM protections to make abandoned or ancient games work again. At the time, it didn’t apply to online games. By 2017, however, the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) began pushing for exceptions for online games too.

That led to a flurry of excitement earlier this year at the prospect that some dead MMOs that belong in a museum might actually get there. In stepped the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) to argue that MADE’s goal wasn’t scholarly research; it actually characterized MADE as a “clubhouse where people gather to play games,” suggesting its goal is “enabling public gameplay, rather than preservation for serious scholarly purposes.”

The founders of the MMORPG genre were not amused. Neither were its most dedicated fans. “Speaking as a designer, I’d rather my game be played for free than never be able to be played ever again,” Raph Koster of Star Wars Galaxies fame wrote, noting that if dead games were to make so much money and bring in so many players that the companies repped by the ESA would notice, they likely wouldn’t have been shut down in the first place. “Much of my work is basically gone and what survives is all altered. Preservation matters.”

So, does this mean you can go out and put up a City of Heroes or Matrix Online emulator free and clear under no threat of legal action? Well, not unless you’re a museum/archivist doing so for provably preservative purposes or you’re content to play with just yourself. Here’s the relevant bit from the filing in the Library of Congress made public today.

“(i) Video games in the form of computer programs embodied in physical or downloaded formats that have been lawfully acquired as complete games, when the copyright owner or its authorized representative has ceased to provide access to an external computer server necessary to facilitate an authentication process to enable gameplay, solely for the purpose of:

(A) Permitting access to the video game to allow copying and modification of the computer program to restore access to the game for personal, local gameplay on a personal computer or video game console; or

(B) 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.”

Of course, that’s not going to stop existing emulation hosted out of the country. It’s nevertheless a huge step forward for the legal preservation of MMOs!

Here’s a recap of the whole ordeal:

Massively Overthinking: MMOs belong in a museum! - Let's talk game preservation. We've been covering MADE's attempt to convince the government to tweak its interpretation of the DMCA to basically allow museums, academics, and institutions of learning to…

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Celestrata Bloodsong

This is great news to hear. There are so many great online titles that really should be preserved, as they helped guide the industry to where it is today. And I think Raph is right… would rather the games be seen and played. That work should be remembered rather than forgotten.

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Jack Pipsam

Awesome stuff. The question remains how many would be willing to give up the code.
I’m also curious how it would actually work, like would they need their own new account system?

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Frank White

“…clubhouse where people gather to play games.” It’s like they think they’re talking about something despicable. Translation: If we can’t find a way to make a profit on it, we’d rather it gather dust and rot. (Figuratively speaking, of course, ha ha.)

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NecroFox4

I wonder if WB will ever consider giving Asheron’s Call to the MADE folks…

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Denice J. Cook

Much as it would make my heart absolutely sing with joy, I don’t see NCSoft donating CoX code or IP access, because they wouldn’t even do it when Paragon Studios and other devs and gaming fans were waving millions of dollars in their faces. Not to mention that South Koreans don’t give a hoot about American laws.

Forking over CoX code or permission to use the IP would give their horrible reputation in the West a shot in the arm it desperately could use, though.

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Minimalistway

I guess if there is an “illegal” emulator out there, the LOC can use it to preserve the game, which i very much approve, but notice i say “guess” because i’m not sure i understand the whole thing.

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NecroFox4

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. The exception to the DMCA states that the archivist must have legal access to the source code. Emulators typically are not based on the source code of the server side, but rather, are built to emulate functions based on what folks have gathered from the client.

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Zora

Somehow I thought, why of course preservation implies very ancient stuff… just a few hours late it hits my lazy brain… does that mean we might get to see city of heroes or wildstar emulated and saved from oblivion?

I won’t certainly have those mansions in the clouds back exactly as they were but…… the thought alone

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traja

This is a very good thing for preservation, and preservation does matter. From a player perspective I don’t see much changing. If I understand this correctly it only allows you to play the game inside the museum. Not exactly ideal for a game like City of Heroes, and even that assumes that the museums get access to the server software. In practice we will still be relying on private server people getting their software to work properly.

semugh
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semugh

put the old game on steam for a fee. From that money spin up an official aws server and be done with it.
A sysadmin can do this under a week. No need for this legal gray area stuff.

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styopa

This is a huge win for the electronic gaming INDUSTRY if a loss for the people whose dead, skeletal fingers are clutching the viscera of much beloved games intent on sucking the very marrow from them …. someday.*
*I’m looking at you, City of Heroes.

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Bryan Correll

Now, now. They did put on that grotesque show using the corpses of Statesman and Ghost Widow as marionettes in Master X Master. Then they shut that game down.

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IronSalamander8 .

Good news indeed! As a huge Doctor Who fan (especially classic) I’ve been aghast that the BBC was erasing episodes back in the day, especially of the 1st 2 Doctors, I’d hate to see games suffer this same treatment.

Also, again with the CoH pic? Quit reminding me it’s gone! :P

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Bryan Correll

Maybe someday we’ll be able see “The Underwater Menace” in all it’s glory. Just have to keep checking the storage rooms in all those African TV stations.