Happy 20th Birthday To 'No One Lives Forever', The Classic PC Game That Can't Be Sold Today Thanks To IP
from the and-yet-it's-dead dept
There are a great many interesting arguments we tend to have over both the purpose of copyright law and how effectively its current application aligns with that purpose. Still, we are on fairly solid legal footing when we state that the main thrust of copyright was supposed to be to drive more and better content to the public. Much of the disagreement we tend to have with naysayers revolves around whether ever expanding rights coupled with protectionist attitudes truly results in more and better content for the public. We, to a large extent, say the current copyright bargain is horribly one-sided against the public interest. Detractors say, essentially, “nuh-uh!”.
But if one were to distill the problems with the current state of copyright to their most basic forms, you would get No One Lives Forever. The classic PC shooter/spy game was released way back in 2000, times of antiquity in the PC gaming space. It was a critically acclaimed hit, mixing Deus Ex style shooter missions, spycraft, and an aesthetic style built on 1960s classic spy films. And, as RockPaperShotgun reminds us, No One Lives Forever celebrated its 20th birthday this November.
If you remember the game fondly, or perhaps if you never played it and are curious as to why there’s so much love for the game, you might be thinking about going and getting a copy for yourself to play. Well, too bad. You can’t.
FPS spy romp No One Lives Forever turns 20 today but alas Cate Archer is still confined to her room, unable to come out and play. The secret agent shooter has been tied up in legal gridlock for years. You’ll not find it for sale online aside from second-hand, but that hasn’t stopped RPS singing its praises all this time. A remaster still seems unlikely, but Nightdive Studios say they aren’t done trying to make it happen.
Legal gridlock is being extremely kind. Why you cannot buy this game is one of the most frustrating stories in intellectual property. We discussed much of this back in 2015. Nightdive Studios is a company that buys up the rights to older video games, updates and/or remasters them for modern gaming hardware, and then rereleases them. And we’re talking about a professional operation that has managed to rerelease games like Doom 64, 7th Guest, and System Shock. In other words, these guys are legit and they know what they’re doing.
And they really, really wanted to give No One Lives Forever the treatment. There was just one problem: nobody seems to know who holds the copyright for the game, but everyone independently has told Nightdive that they’ll sue if they make the game. Warner Bros., Activision, and 20th Centry Fox all might own the copyright to the game, except that the paperwork for how the rights all shake out was contrived in a time before such records were digitized. So, someone owns the rights to this game. And Nightdive very much wants to work out an arrangement with whoever that someone is. But none of the three potential owners are willing to go hunt down the paperwork so such a deal could be worked out.
You can get a sense of how each is communicating with Nightdive from our original post on the subject.
“So we went back to Activision and, [after] numerous correspondence going back and forth, they replied that they thought they might have some rights, but that any records predated digital storage. So we’re talking about a contract in a box someplace.” Kuperman laughed. “The image I get is the end of Indiana Jones… somewhere in a box, maybe in the bowels of Activision, maybe it was shipped off to Iron Mountain or somewhere. And they confessed, they didn’t have [their] hands on it. And they weren’t sure that they even had any of those rights.”
And yet Nightdive was also told by all three entities, independently mind you, that they might own some rights and would go find out if Nightdive tried to rerelease the game to see if they could sue over it. The end result is a game that can’t be released legitimately to the public over rights three companies insist are important enough to sue over, but not so important that they should know if they even have those rights to begin with.
Which brings us back to the RPS post, five years later on the 20th birthday of No One Lives Forever, where we find out that essentially zero progress has been made.
As one of the best FPS games on PC, it seems plenty worthy of a remaster or re-release, but efforts on that front have died in the water over the past decade or more. Hit any one of those quoted links to get the evolving story, but the short version is this: Nightdive Studios, who want to modernise No One Lives Forever, don’t own the rights to it. More than one company might have legal claim to it, but none of them are terribly motivated to unearth stacks of paper contracts literally hidden in basements. They’re just sure they don’t want anyone else making money off it without them. So Cate’s all tied up in the super villain’s lair without a Deus Ex Machina to save her.
On that front, Nightdive recently told The Gamer that they aren’t done trying to make it happen. “It is a process that we’re continuing,” said director of business development Larry Kuperman. “We continue on with our mission to unearth and bring back these classic games.”
And so the public is flatly denied legitimate access to content that is a piece of our culture over copyrights nobody can say for sure if they have. I can’t claim to crawl into the founding fathers’ heads to say precisely how they wanted copyright to work, but it sure as shit can’t be like this.