The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has found itself at the head of a battle to preserve gaming's history, fighting the Entertainment Software Association for right to modify multiplayer games to ensure their survival once the official servers have been deactivated.
Copyright law in the US got a significant shot in the arm with the introduction of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which forbids - among other things - the circumvention of technologies designed to prevent media from being copied. The EFF, in its role as champion of digital rights, applied to the US Copyright Office for an exemption to this rule
that would allow for games which rely on remote servers to be modified in order that they may survive their official shutdown - by, for example, removing authentication requirements and allowing connection to unofficial third-party servers in place of the now-deactivated official infrastructure.
The EFF argues that such a right is a necessary part of ensuring the future of today's cultural heritage. 'Many player communities, along with museums, archives, and researchers, want to keep the games they own playable after publishers shut down the servers the games depend on,
' explained the EFF's Mitch Stoltz of the request in a blog post
published this week. 'Section 1201 [of the DMCA] creates legal difficulty for these communities, which is why we’ve asked the Copyright Office to give them an exemption.
The EFF faces a major foe in its battle, however: the Entertainment Software Association, one of the biggest games industry groups. The ESA has written its own letter to the Copyright Office, claiming that any such exemption would spell the death of not just the games industry but 'undermine the fundamental copyright principles on which our copyright laws are based.
' The ESA's argument is simple: allowing archivists and the legitimate owners of paid-for commercial games to modify them in order to extend their useful lifespan is tantamount to hacking, and the proles will be told that 'hacking - an activity closely associated with piracy in the minds of the marketplace - is lawful.
Copyright law in the US has a tendency to veer towards the requirements of the rightsholders more than the masses - witness the Mickey Mouse Protection Act
, introduced just before Walt Disney's most famous work would have entered the public domain - but the EFF has declared that it will continue the fight the case, regardless of the position of industry bodies such as the ESA.