ESA Oppose DRM Law Change Preserving Online Games

If a publisher shuts down a game’s online bits, current US copyright law says, you’re technically not allowed to modify the game to use different servers or work offline. It’s gone, that’s it, bye-bye. That’s a bummer for players, not to mention folks trying to preserve our short but already fading history. American digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation have been trying to change this, and are currently arguing for an exception for abandoned online games letting folks revive and save them.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, a trade association representing mostly publishers, this would be a bad thing. Oh dear.

The issue concerns a section of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, the EFF explain, which lays out the law on circumventing DRM. If you don’t have your copy of the DMCA at hand, I’ll tell you: it’s not at all keen on people getting around DRM. The EFF proposed an exemption for “abandoned games” as comments to the Copyright Office in February, and the ESA have now responded.

The proposed exemption would allow folks to pick at shut-down games, creating workarounds for authentication or starting their own servers without getting in legal trouble. It’d cover publishers closing services for games, like EA routinely do, as well as the hypothetical shutdown of Steamworks, which many games rely on for their multiplayer. We’re lucky we got off so lightly with the GameSpy shutdown. However, the exemption wouldn’t cover games with persistent virtual worlds like MMOs, or browser games either.

If a publisher isn’t willing to keep the servers running and let you play, what’s wrong with folks getting round DRM to get it going themselves? Well!

The ESA joined with bodies representing music and movie industries in a response to the Copyright Office saying the proposed exemptions to DRM law would “undermine the fundamental copyright principles on which our copyright laws are based.” And that exemptions in that section of the DMCA would send a message that “hacking – an activity closely associated with piracy in the minds of the marketplace – is lawful”.

Heaven forbid! No, better that publishers get to decide when a game dies and have the force of the law behind them if they want to stop people preserving them. The ESA is only trying to keep secure something the industry at large has decided is good, of course, but this one is a real bummer for folks who love games and want to keep them alive.

[That photo is from ExtremeTech.]

49 Comments

  1. Sarfrin says:

    By Electronic Freedom you mean the Electronic Frontier Foundation?

  2. LionsPhil says:

    (You seem to have got the EFF’s name wrong in the first paragraph.)

    That seems a laughably weak counterargument. As in, they couldn’t even come up with an excuse for maintaining a death-grip on every smidgen of power they have that sounded good.

    • pepperfez says:

      Why bother with arguments when you can use money instead?

  3. Ooops says:

    That’s one the things that makes me glad I recently decided to only play (and buy) DRM-free games.
    I’ll still play games on Steam for the features brought by the platform, but only if the publisher also gives me access to a DRM-free copy.

    When I’m reading about an upcoming game that looks promising, I email the developers asking them if they have plans for a DRM-free release as well. I phrase it in a positive way, not threatening to not buy their games (that’s be an unfriendly ultimatum. It’s just a friendly reminded that there are people who strongly value DRM-free releases. Of course, I only do this with indies, as most AAA publishers will probably never understand how DRM-free releases benefit both the customers and themselves.

    And Viva Gog.com!

  4. JohnnyPanzer says:

    What a silly and idiotic knee-jerk reaction. It would be perfectly possible to formulate a law that would allow for electronic worlds to stay alive and even thrive long after a developer has lost interest/funding for it, without endangering their copyright principles.

    The lack of longevity in electronic media is a huge problem, and threatens to leave a huge gap in both our history books andf our collective memory. This is a recognised problem. Everyone knows this. And still the industry keeps clinging on to the same model that has been outdated for several decades, refusing to learn, adapt or change. It took them forever to even realise that streaming was just as viable an option for the industry as it was for pirates and now they keep fighting a battle that is allready lost, just out of spite and ignorance.

    Idiots. They’re all idiots.

    • Boothie says:

      It is a problem, however i dont think they are opposed out of spite or an unthinking kneejerk reaction, more that its in their interest for games to pass into oblivion as fast as possible so that people are compelled to buy their latest games.

  5. vorador says:

    “When we abandon something, we banish it from the very earth, and you’re going to like it. No ifs and/or buts.”

    • vorador says:

      “In fact, if we could break into your house, take the software disks and crush them into tiny bits, and hypnotize you so you would forget our product ever existed, we would.”

      • April March says:

        No that’s just silly. They wouldn’t want you to forget the name of the game, so that when they reboot the series you’ll have the vague notion that the name is associated with happy memories, while remaining confused as to the source of the disappointment and betrayal you feel at the game proper.

  6. bleeters says:

    So, essentially, blame and condem piracy whilst at the same time contriuting to its justification.

    Yeah, that’s about what I expected.

    • grimdanfango says:

      Well, they wouldn’t *really* want piracy to actually go away, it’s their #1 excuse for pushing through whatever consumer-control scheme they feel like. If they ever really “beat” piracy, they’d have to find themselves a new all-purpose boogyman.

      • Jeroen D Stout says:

        I feel slightly humbled just having read this meta-cynicism.

  7. James says:

    Could we possibly have a link to the full statement from the ESA on this for scrutiny? I want to see their justification for saying ‘we will abandon this and give zero shits about it, and we won’t let you give a shit about it either’. That seems to be the jist of what you have told us, but errrm… there could be a tiny tiny bit of bias – hence I’d like to see the full ESA statement if possible.

  8. AbsoluteShower says:

    Copyright has that ‘defend it or lose it’ mentality. Makes for a very intransigent position.

    • skalpadda says:

      In the sense that they want to defend their position of privilege at every cost perhaps, but you can’t lose copyright in the way that trademarks can become common usage terms or lost due to not defending them. This is nothing but protecting their right to make their products obsolete when they choose to.

    • tetracycloide says:

      That’s a very common misconception bit it’s actually trademark that has a defend it or lose it clause. Copyright doesn’t work that way at all. You lose no rights by ignoring infringement.

  9. mattevansc3 says:

    That is a bit of a lame excuse. The companies most likely to lose out with these changes, EA and Activision, would just change their business model for their annual releases.

    We’d just see a migration to a subscription style business model. Your COD and Battlefield purchase becomes a stand alone single player with a twelve month access pass to the multiplayer servers. That way even when the game gets EOL’d the servers and DRM are still technically running and circumnavigate that exemption.

  10. Be_reasonable says:

    This is easy to understand, folks. They are defending their business interests. Terminating multiplayer allows them to sell you sequels. Obtaining control over multiplayer prevents groups from profiting off of competitions. It is what it looks like, which is protecting the business interests of the businesses that own the IP. They make more money off of abandoning it and moving on. Nothing about any of it relates to “culture,” preservation, or what gamers find fair.

    • grimdanfango says:

      Nothing ever does. That’s why it niggles me so much when they harp on about “fundamental principles” in a statement like this. Copyright and IP laws have very little to do with principles, and everything to do with business interests.

      • jrodman says:

        This is not really accurate. There were very clear principles underlying the creation of United States copyright law, which are plainly explained in the U.S. constitution. “To promote Progress of Science and useful Arts”. In other words the princples are “ensure stuff is created for the betterment of the public at large”. Exactly the opposite of DRM-unmaking things.

    • Doomstar says:

      This. It’s purely a business choice. They cut support to the game so that the next game has an audience. people are annoyed about the MP servers being shut down, even the core MP audience, but if they want it back they know where to go to get the next hit. And running those servers does cost money in both the sense of having to keep them up (hardware/staff) and in stopping people from moving onto the new shiny thing which they need to sell ASAP to make the balance books look good.

      Luckily there are other countries (not here in Oz where we do whatever the US corps like) where this stuff can be preserved.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      Yes, that is the most basic understanding of the situation. You have succeeded in eliminating all of those variables and subjective factors that make life worth living for meat creatures, and trivialized any possible disagreement with laudable efficiency.

      Today we take their games, comrade. Tomorrow, some other thing of somewhat greater importance.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        If you weren’t defending the position of big publishers that they have the right to impede our ability to use copies of software that we’ve already paid them to own, you’d almost have a point.

        But this is a matter of copyright, isn’t it? The right to sell copies. If the consumer doesn’t have the right to use the product as they see fit, THEN THE COPY HASN’T ACTUALLY BEEN SOLD IN THE FIRST PLACE AND THE PUBLISHERS CAN’T MAKE ARGUMENTS BASED ON COPYRIGHT LAW. The publishers are taking our games, “comrade”, not the other way around. This is not the way to do capitalism. This is not the way to do open markets.

    • pepperfez says:

      It impacts directly on the preservation of culture, whether that’s what the businesses involved care about or not. The point is exactly that the current law is slanted in favor of business interests and against preservation and the public domain Businesses will always exploit the law as much as possible,so the changing the law is the only way to protect the public domain.

    • tetracycloide says:

      Obviously, the question is why should their business model be codified by law? Most companies have to build a model that works rather than making their model work by legislative fiat.

  11. ffordesoon says:

    Oh, you mean the ESA that folded like a lawn chair in the face of SOPA? The one that throws a big party every year where AAA console gaming celebrates its own increasing irrelevance and absurd budget bloat by wasting even more money and time on absurdly scripted or outright misrepresentative “target render” demos which showcase promises that will be silently broken by the time the game releases?

    Well, gosh, I wouldn’t expect this from the videogame version of the RIAA at all!

  12. Person of Interest says:

    The ESA’s statement can be read, understood, and critiqued without any formal legal education, in my opinion. See for yourself.

    Many of the arguments are about the potential for piracy. The interesting arguments are specifically about “Item 6. Asserted Adverse Effects.” My biased summary (but really, you can read it for yourself, it’s a 2-page section):
    – It’s no biggie when the servers go down, because you can still play offline singleplayer, or local multiplayer, or watch a video someone took of the game back when it worked.
    – People continue to buy games whose servers have already shut down, so online can’t be that important, can it?
    – We helped the Smithsonian build a Pac-Man cabinet.

    • malkav11 says:

      I’d find their “but but you can play offline singleplayer” argument a whole lot more convincing if they weren’t working so ardently towards there being no such thing.

      (I mean, it would still be point-missing bullshit, but it wouldn’t be so hypocritical.)

  13. kud13 says:

    Copyright scheme as a whole exists to protect publishers-originally it were the English and French booksellers, now it’s the major publishers.

    The crux of the issue is the tired old “games (and programming code in general are are not a tangible good, but only a set of permissions for you to what the seller allows you to with the information contained therein”. The same argument cuts both ways, of course as it pulls the teeth out of the “PIRACY IS THEFT!!!” argument the publishers fancy so much.

    However, what it essentially means is that the purchasers really do have no control over their game-as it’s not a “good”, but a set of permissions that can be arbitrarily revoked (subject to whatever consumer protection legislature applies in a given jurisdiction).

    So yeah. Tampering with their code is technically infringing the copyright. That being said, their argument about “market perceiving this exception as encouraging hacking, which is associated in the market’s mind with piracy” is pretty ridiculous, considering they are the ones behind the patently untrue “piracy is theft” campaign, which led to this perception in the first place.

    Best of luck to the IFF with this.

  14. TechnicalBen says:

    AFAIK “Hacking” is not illegal, going by it’s dictionary definition. Possibly by it’s definition in law too (unless “hacking at the victim” :( ).

    I doubt they would like to make that note though, just as”copying” becomes an illegal activity to them in all it’s forms, even when their copyright is not involved.

    • Camerooni says:

      The ‘mainstream’ believe that cracking and hacking are the same thing.. it’s an education issue.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        I don’t think the “mainstream” even attempts to guess at what “hacking” means. If they did, it probably would be more about China and corporate espionage, and not copyright law or gaming.

        For something supposedly half of all people partake in, our little gaming hobby is so far off the radar, it’s not even funny.

  15. thedosbox says:

    As pathetic as the ESA’s position is, does it really surprise anyone? Publishers just want people to buy new games, not play the ones they’ve already paid for.

  16. MadTinkerer says:

    Huh. The ESA oppose the EFF on a matter of consumer rights. In other completely unexpected news, a [direction]wing party member opposes a [opposite direction]wing party member’s stance on [political issue].

  17. jrodman says:

    This is not real surprise. The DMCA created a blanket illegality surrounding circumventing DRM measures completely irregarding the legality of those actions which were already well-established in other copyright scenarios.

    In other words the very egregious power mismanagement happened in the very early 2000s. This is just maintenance of same.

  18. malkav11 says:

    I wonder why they didn’t include abandoned MMOs and browser games in their proposed exemption. To me, the former are one of the biggest casualties of the whole affair and figuring out a way to preserve them a commensurately high priority. It’s a tougher challenge, for sure, but again, these are games that the owners deliberately shut down and ended any possibility of receiving revenue, so there’s no sensible argument that they would be materially harmed by allowing it.

  19. MellowKrogoth says:

    Hilarious. Copyright law is based on the principle that all forms of culture belong to the people, and that said people grant a temporary exclusivity to authors to encourage them to make stuff. That’s it.

    That authors/publishers now want eternal exclusivity even on stuff they don’t give a shit about anymore shows how much the understanding of these principles has degraded. Surely the reasonable thing should be to let culture go back to the people sooner if the author isn’t gaining anything from it anymore?

    Remember people: hacking your house or car is bad, don’t you dare modify things you own. And especially not things you collectively own AND can share easily, such as ideas or software.

  20. Duke Flipside says:

    I have never heard of this organisation, so I was extremely confused by the headline; I couldn’t understand why the European Space Agency would have a particular stance about online gaming and DRM…

  21. Colthor says:

    Thank you, software industry, for protecting me from people who’d allow me to play the games I’ve bought.

  22. Razumen says:

    Love how their argument basically completely relies on the slippery slope fallacy. Oh we could let people play their legally bought games past the date we decide to stop supporting them, but you know, piracy! wooooooooooo! (scary ghost sounds)…