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.]