Thanks To Fair Use, One Man Is Trying To Preserve Old School Video Game Manuals

from the preserve-art dept

We have discussed at some length the intersection of copyright laws and antiquated video game preservation. Going back at least a decade now, most of that focus has been on whether the use of emulators and the digitization of games that no longer have systems to run them ought to qualify as fair use. You can couple that with the more recent trend of some museums with a focus on the art of video games seeking to get exceptions to the DMCA’s anti-circumvention rules in order to preserve both offline and online games that might otherwise be lost to the ether. When viewed properly through the lens that copyright law exists for the purpose of promoting more culture, not less, it should be immediately obvious that preserving culture in this manner is one of the chief aims of fair use and copyright law in general.

But it’s not just the games themselves being preserved by fair use provisions. One dedicated man has led a six year effort to digitize and preserve the game manuals for every Super Nintendo game ever created.

In some cases, they’re lost forever! Other times, we’re lucky to have folks like Peebs, who devote an incredible amount of time to collecting, cataloguing and then ensuring manuals to every Super Nintendo game ever released are scanned and uploaded, so that future generations can enjoy them as much as we did.

For the last six years he’s also been hosting a Twitch channel, where he’s been slowly trying to beat every single Super Nintendo game. A lot of the time, in order to complete a section or just look something up, he’d need to consult the manual. “It didn’t take long to realize that most of the time when I went to look for a scan of a manual for control schemes or just backstory, they mostly either didn’t exist or they were all scattered to the far corners of the Internet,” Peebs says. “There was a severe lack of organization: mislabeled files/links, old defunct websites with broken interface/files, incomplete scans, etc.”

Now, I do not expect everyone to particularly care about the preservation of old video game manuals. I do, but then I’m precisely the right target audience for this sort of thing. Cartridge console gaming was a thing at the exact right time in my youth and I loved going through the manuals for games. The art, instructions for play, backstory, and detailed explanations for the setting were part of the fun of buying a new game. If you’re of the tabletop gaming sort, think of it as a truncated version of going through player handbooks and monster manuals.

But even if you don’t give two poops about video game manuals from the 90s, it’s still important to recognize that fair use is what enables this sort of preservation. This sort of non-commercial categorization and preservation, frankly the kind of thing that museums do, would certainly run afoul of copyright law otherwise. But thanks to his efforts, Peebs nearly has every manual available to anyone, free of charge. And a grateful clique of the gaming community is actively trying to help him complete his goal.

There were around 600 manual scans available on the SNES Manual Archive when it opened to the public in September 2020. Since then, a community has sprung up around the project, with fans around the world eager to help out with their own submissions.

“I got approximately 20 scans sent in on the first day, and since then I’ve received about one per day,” Peebs says. “People have started letting me know when they buy a manual so I can mark it off as incoming so other people don’t buy the same thing. I’d say we probably have a total of another 15-20 manuals in the mail from people around the world right now that will be scanned and uploaded when we get them.”

That leaves just over 100 manuals, at least for Western games or versions of games. Though the project is looking to expand its Super Famicom collection in the future. “The support of people contributing to the project has been super surprising and I’m very thankful for every manual that has been submitted.”

There have apparently been no game publishers, nor Nintendo itself, coming by to lob copyright shots at this project. That’s a good thing, so clearly an endeavor of appreciation of the art in these manuals this project is. One hopes that, with this new notoriety Peebs is receiving, he isn’t suddenly forced to confront just how much fair use protection his project has. To have this part of gaming culture under threat just because copyright would be a shame.

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Companies: nintendo

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Comments on “Thanks To Fair Use, One Man Is Trying To Preserve Old School Video Game Manuals”

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crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Leaving this particular guy alone may seem like it makes things better but I’m unconvinced.
The guy is building on a swamp, his shack may stay up for now but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to build there and you would be a fool to build a skyscraper there until someone actually clarifies whats legal and what isn’t

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Fair use is always decided in court, it is barely a "thing" otherwise, so no clarification happens literally until the project in question gets sued. Safety is irrelevant, it’s a preservation project, not a business. Sure he could preserve manuals without making them public, for his own hobby, but that misses a huge point to it. So it exists until someone orders him to take something down, and then he can do that, and fight it in court to get that clarification, or not. But he sure has a far higher likelihood of getting monetary support for a lawsuit if he has public recognition via his users and museumgoers.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Of course safety is relevant. Hobby projects still have risk, it’s just personal risk to the individual, but regardless. It’s a small investment project because it has to be because the law needs to be clarified before anyone will do any larger investment projects.

Yes the law is unclear, but thats what precedent is for if we could get some cases decided then people would be better positioned to act

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If only the law decided to say, if you don’t keep it available in the market at a fair price GFY.

Instead they get to lock things up pretty much forever until they find some stupid way to squeeze 2 more cents from it & try to get the copyright to continue.

Manuals for games would be a REALLY stupid hill for Nintendo to plant their flag on, I expect them to within 2 weeks, b/c there is no actual harm to them. They don’t even make these anymore & giving them yet more power to lock up culture for no reason other than well maybe someday we’ll bring back 16 bit glory in cartridge form should get them slapped.

Given the ytdl thing with RIAA & Github I can see Nintendo jumping on the bandwagon that making manuals available will somehow benefit pirates so we need to stop it even if it punishes people who bought the game but lost the book.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Was just about to comment on that very thing given this is Nintendo we’re talking about, a company run by control freaks with a penchant of crushing anything related to their games that they don’t control. [ED: emphasis mine]

Keyword is "games". I know for a fact that Nintendo hasn’t taken action (that I know of) related to their old systems, because I’ve played reëngineered and updated versions of Nintendo hardware (such as having USB power and HDMI output), as well as made and used software and files that played back on such hardware. If I were to make a new Mario Bros. fan-game, however, yes, Nintendo would indeed come after me. If I were to make a new original game that could be played on the NES or Super NES? Not so much.

Crafty Coyote says:

Copyright is, or can be a B*tch to deal with.

A friend of mine told me once that copyright infringement is stealing and theft. When I found that theft counts as as $500 fine and a Class C misdemeanor on a criminal record that could affect your employment options, I realized that the life experiences, the adventures, the joy I had in finding things that publishers never wanted me to know was worth more than $500 and being an unemployed criminal.

Thank you, Mrs. Pryor.

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