Copyright Getting In The Way Of Preserving Video Game History

from the and-again-and-again-and-again dept

We keep hearing stories of how copyright is getting in the way of preserving or archiving cultural works. The latest is video games, which face a double whammy of obsolete proprietary hardware and restrictive copyright laws, making it quite difficult to legally preserve those games:
Even if preservationists had the resources to develop the kind of emulators that can stand the test of time, their task would be made all the more difficult by the tendency of game companies to worry more about piracy than preservation. This means that documentation on how their machines work is either non-existent (if the company goes out of business or fails to preserve it) or secret, so makers of emulators must laboriously reverse-engineer existing hardware.

Finally, there's the copyright issue. Getting permission to preserve a game requires signoff by everyone with a stake in it--its creator, publisher, etc.
Given the current legal situation concerning emulation, it is not possible to preserve video games digitally using emulators and copy media to different physical layers without the manufacturer's agreement. Establishing responsibility for the preservation of digital data must be seen as a priority. Awareness has to be raised among the manufacturers of console video game systems and console video games to reach agreements about how to preserve their work.
The article also notes that there probably needs to be a legal change, such as exempting such archival activity in the DMCA rulemaking process that just concluded -- but so far it doesn't seem like such changes are likely.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 2:20am

    Huh? You mean the entire emulation scene goes on with the manufacturer's agreement?

     

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      ECA (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 3:00am

      Re:

      IN TRUTH..
      not a bit.
      to 99% of them its piracy and theft.
      But I would love to see someone take Galaga/tempest/Tetris/pong/Frogger/space invaders/.. into court.

       

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        Marcel de Jong (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 3:37am

        Re: Re:

        The TETRIS company took down a whole lot of Tetris-like clones from the Android Marketplace.

        Incidentally, including a number of BlockOut clones (which is the 3d top-down block stacking game) (par example: Blockx3D), that in my humble opinion should not have fallen victim to that particular DMCA take-down notice as it didn't infringe on Tetris' trademarks or copyright.
        And Google should allow the counter notice section of the DMCA too, for those game-authors.

         

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          nasch (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 10:07am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Newly-developed knockoffs are a totally different subject than preserving actual old video games through emulation.

           

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            Marcel de Jong (profile), Aug 2nd, 2010 @ 3:44am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Good point, but if a game isn't available for a certain market, is it so weird that fans of those games remake them for that market? And should those remakes be made illegal too? (any idea how many Tetris clones there are for Linux?)

            The other point was that Tetris != BlockOut. Sure both are block-stacking games, but Tetris is front view 2D, and Blockout uses different shaped blocks and has a top-down 3D view.

            And in an ideal world, Google would allow the creators of the games to respond to the DMCA takedown notice.

             

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              nasch (profile), Aug 2nd, 2010 @ 8:00am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Not weird at all, and unless the knockoff is being passed off as the original, there should not be anything in the way of them. Competition is good!

               

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    ECA (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 2:57am

    tHIS IS VERY ENTERTAINING.

    This is an interesting topic.

    AGREED.
    There are emulators that work hard to render games properly. But there are games that FIGHT not to be played, in ANYTHING, except the original machines. Some ODDBALL code hidden inside to protect it, or proprietary formula(hardware/software).
    Go ask ATARI..they STILL have copyrights from the Atari game console, they reinvent the games for Many machines. NO ONE can touch them.

    Many of the older Software CREATORS have gone into PURCHASE and distribution. They would rather BUY it out, and OWN the channels, then let someone ELSE learn the trade.
    Very little in the last 30 years has been released to the pubic domain.

    They are at the point, that Copyrighting CODE, is a specialized business ALSO. Its the Copyright.GOV thats having the problems NOW..to much to remember. A few companies have Banned Software copyrights.

    Another point of Strangeness,
    Comes with computer history and Gaming history.
    If you ever read or see a time line..Figure out where the Amiga goes. 15 years of advanced 8/16 bit computing/graphics out the window.

     

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      lfroen (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 3:34am

      Re: tHIS IS VERY ENTERTAINING.

      >> 15 years of advanced 8/16 bit computing/graphics out the window.
      Advanced by 15yrs old standard you mean. Please keep your facts straight.

       

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    lfroen (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 4:04am

    What to preserve exactly?

    There's no point in this "preservation". That to preserve - artwork? Machinery? Source code?

    Artwork can be used under fare-usage provisions, machinery better be authentic to be worth put in museum, and source code is available in every programming text book.

    The point of emulator is to "run program for platform X on platform Y". Most of them are created purely for "because I can" reason or as programming exercise. While former is not really needed, latter is definitely allowed as serve a part of any CS degree.

    In short - nothing to see here, move on.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 8:08am

      Re: What to preserve exactly?

      You'd be surprised how many video game brands are preserved purely because of the emulation "piracy" scene. That's basically how any cult classic is created...because impossible to find games for no-longer-existing platforms are still perfectly available through less than legal means.

       

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      nasch (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 10:09am

      Re: What to preserve exactly?

      source code is available in every programming text book.

      The source code to every interesting video game ever made is in every programming text book?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 11:03am

        Re: Re: What to preserve exactly?

        source code != scenario. All algorithms are known and yes, present in relevant books.

         

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          nasch (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 12:10pm

          Re: Re: Re: What to preserve exactly?

          I don't think you understand what is meant by "source code". Just because a particular application doesn't use any unique algorithms, taken line by line, doesn't mean its source code is "known". For example, I'm fairly confident the source code for Oracle's database engine uses algorithms that are well known and common. But I guarantee there is no computer science textbook that contains "the source code for Oracle's database engine".

          Now perhaps Ifroen meant something else, but it seems like he's saying there's no need to try to preserve video games, because the source code for all the video games is in CS textbooks.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 4:53am

    If the best and the brightest today can't hack/crack into code written 10-15-20 years ago and extract enough to emulate it, I am disappointed.

    That or the folks who wrote it are Tesla-esque geniuses and deserve our respect and adoration, which means ponying up the money for an original.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 4:58am

      Re:

      oh they can hack/crack most of the code just fine, it's just that it's illegal to do so.

      adding to the problem: how do you get code from the magnafox onto your pc.

       

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        ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 1st, 2010 @ 8:28pm

        Re: Re:

        "oh they can hack/crack most of the code just fine, it's just that it's illegal to do so. "

        Regardless of legality, they have to expose themselves to the possibility of court action to justify what they're doing.

        Software patents are a lawyer's toolset, not a programmer's.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 5:44am

      Re:

      It is not that simple, most games(arcades) of the 80's and 90's have protection on the chips that will kill the chip if you try to dump it, that make it difficult to dump the chips for reverse engineering, not impossible but as some can attest, those chips are rare today and if you burn one up it is difficult to find another to test things.

       

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    Rabbit80, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 4:56am

    If you look at the Amiga scene, you can find virtually every game and piece of software ever made for these machines available on the internet - yet nobody seems to mind.

    The consensus is that if a game is no longer for sale then it is Ok to pirate it!

    The emulation of these machines has reached staggering accuracy as well - thanks to the work of the Amiga community, which is still thriving.

     

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      ECA (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 1:12pm

      Re:

      The amiga was ahead of its time and the graphics and speed were great, for 15 years.
      It PUSHED MS to goto a graphic environment, then to windows.
      For all the movies created on it/with it.

      iT USED your tv, rather then a $200 12" monitor.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 5:21am

    @Rabbit

    Nobody cares about the amiga scene because they've figured out they're not going to make money on it.

    They have figured out however that they can repackage a dozen or so old Atari 2600 games to folks my age into a retro looking joystick that plugs into your TV and make a sh!t ton because it brings back memories of our good old days.

    20 years from now, it'll be your kids buying a "retro" PS3 or XBox joystick streaming wirelessly to their TV to bring back the good old days.

     

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      martyburns (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 5:36am

      Re:

      20 years from now, it'll be your kids buying a "retro" PS3 or XBox joystick streaming wirelessly to their TV to bring back the good old days.

      to their TV? I think straight to their brain would be much better.

       

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      Danny, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 5:56am

      Re:

      "20 years from now, it'll be your kids buying a "retro" PS3 or XBox joystick streaming wirelessly to their TV to bring back the good old days."

      I'm thinking it will be more like Ghost in the Shell where it plug directly in the back of the neck. But you're right. The only reason these games are so hard to emulate is because the copyright owners think they are "being robbed of profits" by it. Emulating would break their ability to re-re-re-re-release old games on whatever the current system is and charge $20 for a retro classic.

       

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    Michial Thompson, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 5:52am

    It's all about the culture...

    BULLSHIT!!! little mikee, it's getting old listening to you cry that it's all about the culture that everything in the world should be free.

    get reall, your just too damn lazy to create anything of value, your entire site is based on a business model of making copies of other peoples work, then crying about how it's all about the culture and fair use and wtf ever to con fools into putting ads on your site so you can then bash the patents and copyrights and trademarks that those fools pay to advertise and pay big money to protect yet if you had your way they would have nothing because everyone could just take their products.

    Do these fools advertising on here even realize what your all about?

     

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      Free Capitalist (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 6:27am

      Re: It's all about the culture...

      Good morning sunshine!

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 6:37am

      Re: It's all about the culture...

      Mike says this every time. TD's income is from their activities at Floor 64. This tech blog is just an interesting outlet. The adds are a cherry on top and don't weigh in to much of anything.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 7:29am

      Re: It's all about the culture...

      Free art!

       

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      Jeff, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 7:56am

      Re: It's all about the culture...

      What a fun person you must be in real life... Do speak to your mother with that mouth?? Why continue spewing your rants here? Nobody cares what you say, except for the odd curiosity of "wtf is gonna come out of his mouth this time"

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 3:46pm

      Re: It's all about the culture...

      So, you just called all the corporations and industries to spend your time bending over backwards to apologize for morons, right?

      That doesn't seem to fit.

       

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    cjovalle (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 5:56am

    Earlier Section 1201 exemptions did have a video game preservation/archiving exemption. It was greatly narrowed with the current list.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 7:53am

     

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    Rob Shaver, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 10:43am

    My First Job Out Of College: Embargo

    Okay, it's not exactly on topic but, my first job out of collage in 1976 I created the arcade game Embargo at Cinematronics. It didn't sell well but, wonder of wonder, someone created a web page about it and there's even a little video of the game. Someone must have done that with a simulator. Here's the link (bask in the glory of a bygone era):
    http://www.arcade-history.com/?n=embargo&page=detail&id=751

    Peace, Love, Laughter,

    Rob:-]

     

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    ECA (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 1:17pm

    I will give you ALL a point of interest..

    Any software over 5 years old..should be released to the public domain. PERIOD..

     

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    crade (profile), Jul 30th, 2010 @ 1:34pm

    Funny thing is, the emulation scene ass come full circle.. Nintendo Wii now includes an emulator to play several different types of classic games (not only theirs) and is reselling them. Without the existing (and very open) body of work and research in this area I wonder if they would still have this revenue source.

     

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    Pat Aufderheide (profile), Jul 31st, 2010 @ 12:26pm

    what to do

    Next time there are hearings at the Copyright Office on DMCA exemptions, the videogaming community needs to get before the hearing officers and show clearly why they need to break code to preserve video games. The Librarian of Congress responds well to hard data, as is evident from the exemptions granted this round to those who made a data-driven case.

     

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    Dave Storm, Sep 6th, 2010 @ 12:22pm

    Abandonware

    After so many years, the original games and their original systems are no longer available to the general public. It's pointless to try to hang on to original rights management on 15 year old games. If they're not willing to spend the money to re-release older games on newer systems (or make emulation roms available), then, just declare it abandonware, and let people try to make the games work, DRM-free. Why punish the fans of the games? Dave Flight Simulation Games

     

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