Games are no longer just something we play—they’re a piece of our culture that deserves to be preserved. That’s harder than it used to be with games that check into online servers and many that are exclusively online. The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) has asked the US Copyright Office to grant an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that would allow it to preserve these online games in a playable state.
At issue here is section 1201 of the DMCA, which makes it illegal to circumvent “technological protection measures” that control access to copyrighted work. An example might be ebook DRM or the closed source code running on a server for the defunct games like City of Heroes and the much-beloved Asheron’s Call (above). The DMCA was passed in 1998, but in a rare showing of foresight, lawmakers included a provision that allows the Librarian of Congress to issue exemptions to the law. That happens every three years, and 2018 is one of the exemption years.
Past exemptions have allowed consumers to bypass carrier locks on mobile phones, access health data on implanted medical devices, and bypass DRM in literary works when it interferes with assistive technologies. A past exemption also allowed archivists to run games the require server communication. However, MADE says the current exemption isn’t extensive enough to preserve most of today’s online games.
A company like EA won’t keep a server running forever, no matter how much you complain. EA is a business, and an online game’s days are numbered when it stops making money. MADE, which houses the world’s largest gallery of playable video games, wants an exemption to the DMCA that would allow museums, enthusiast, and others to keep these abandoned games alive by running their own servers.
In its request, MADE notes that some 53% of gamers play multiplayer games at least once per week. That’s millions of hours spent building these online worlds that could simply vanish when a company decides to shut down the servers. An exemption from the Librarian of Congress could make it legal to replicate a company’s servers to keep the games running, but only in cases where the original publisher has stopped supporting the game. MADE is joined in its request by organizations like Public Knowledge.
The rulemaking process is currently open to opposition comments, but none have been posted as of yet. Such comments will be accepted through February 12th, and then supporters can offer rebuttals until March 14th. The Copyright Office will announce its decision shortly thereafter.
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