If you weren't under a social media-less rock a few weeks ago, you hopefully heard about the Internet Archive releasing over 2,000 MS-DOS video games
, playable in the browser. As I noted to someone on Twitter, it was like half of my childhood on the screen. What I found truly amazing was that with every excited Twitter or Facebook comment I saw, it was about a different game
. For me, it was things like Oregon Trail
, Pole Position
, Lode Runner
and Championship Baseball
(and also some college memories of avoiding studying by playing Scorched Earth
-- hey, at least it sorta felt like I was learning physics). But for others it was something entirely different. Each person seemed to latch onto their own moment in history (and a new chance to procrastinate or waste time by reliving that experience).
This, of course, was only the latest in an ongoing effort by the Internet Archive, led by Jason Scott (who has been involved in all sorts of archival efforts of internet content and video games and
made a documentary about text adventure games called Get Lamp
). Andy Baio has a great post up discussing this work and how important it is that it's being done by the Internet Archive
, rather than a giant corporation. As he notes, while Google used to really focus on similar archival projects, in the recent past, it seems to have let that focus fade, which is quite disappointing.
Of course, in discussing the possible reasons why
Google's archival efforts have stagnated, Baio tosses out a few suggested reasons, including the lack of profitability, but also, the potential legal liability
. After all, Google is still fighting
in court about the Google book scanning project, and the focus of that project seems much more about pushing people to buy books, rather than being able to do useful searches through that huge corpus of knowledge.
Baio is (quite reasonably) thrilled that the Internet Archive has been willing and able to step up, and notes that the video game archive shows how Archive.org is a lot more than just saving old websites: it's about preserving our cultural history.
But, other than that one offhand mention of the risk of legal liability to explain Google's dropping the ball on similar stuff, Baio leaves out the related issue of copyright and the DMCA (which he knows about all too well from personal experience
). This isn't a fault of Baio's article, he's just focused on something else. But the copyright aspect is
really important -- especially right now
That's because the main reason why the Internet Archive is allowed to do this kind of thing is because it was lucky enough to get one of the semi-arbitrary DMCA triennial review exemptions
that lets them break old DRM for the purpose of archiving vintage software
. But, even then, it's not entirely clear that what the Internet Archive is doing is fully protected
today. Furthermore, as we saw a few years ago with unlocking mobile phones, the Librarian of Congress can simply delete those exemptions
on a whim.
And, right now, we're in the middle of the DMCA exemption process yet again, with a bunch of requests on tap -- including an important one from the EFF
[pdf] to allow such activities:
Proposed Class: Literary works in the form of computer programs, where circumvention is
undertaken for the purpose of restoring access to single-player or multiplayer video gaming on
consoles, personal computers or personal handheld gaming devices when the developer and its
agents have ceased to support such gaming.
Baio's article talks about how projects like the one at the Internet Archive are magical in preserving history and giving us access to "all of computing history... accessible from a single click." This is incredibly important -- but copyright law is standing in its way. This isn't about "piracy" in any real sense. The games and software being discussed are not being sold anywhere. The hardware that it worked on is long gone. This is about preserving our cultural history -- something that industry appears to have no interest in doing, in part because copyright law itself makes it so risky.
If you think things like this are important too, I also suggest heading over to the Digital Right to Repair
site where they've made a really easy form for you to share your thoughts with the Copyright Office as it considers the latest exemption requests. The Copyright Office also has its own form
, but it's government-level cumbersome. The Digital Right to Repair site is much easier to use. It has some pre-selected text for the various exemptions being debated, but also (very easily) allows you to write your own thoughts (which you should).
One of the key factors in the decision over what to exempt and what not to exempt is a demonstrated "market need" and you can help make the case by sharing your story with the Copyright Office.