Back in November 2014, the EFF, Electronic Frontier Foundation, issued a petition with the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress seeking an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The EFF aimed to tackle the problem of not accessible video games: many gamers, researchers and historians, in fact, couldn’t no longer play those games which required connection with server in order to unlock core functionality of the gameplay. When a game like, for example, Mario Kart DS is no longer selling copies, the companies tend to shut down its servers, thus making it impossible to play that game.
We’re happy to announce that EFF has won this important battle for digital preservation and, although at the moment the decision only affects the United States, is an important goal for an organization like EFGAMP, that increases the possibility of having a similar ruling also here in Europe. Now, thanks to the exemption of the DMCA, it will be legally possible to alter the game code in order to play it again whenever the servers aren’t running anymore. Most of the points were granted in the Ruling, particularly from page 51-56.
Previously, while making modifications to lawfully acquired software in order to access its functionality was an established fair use, the DMCA contained broad anti-circumvention provision that didn’t distinguish between infringing and non-infringing uses. The exemption solves this issue, helping the preservation of abandoned video games. Now, it will be possible for players to modify their copy of a game to eliminate the need for an authentication server after the original server is shut down. Interestingly, the exemption allows museums, libraries and archives to jailbreak game consoles in order to get the games working again. There is still some work to do, anyway, since the Librarian limited the exemption to games that can’t be played at all following a server shutdown. This excludes from the ruling the games where only the online multiplayer features are lost.
The exemption remains still a big leap forward a scenario where games are universally accessible, allowing the future generations to play classic and beloved video games. EFGAMP will take the work of EFF as an inspiration, while trying to do the same also inside the European legislation.