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US Feds Allow DRM Cracking to Preserve Abandoned Internet-Based Games

(Image credit: Gorodenkof/Shutterstock)

The right to repair exemption isn't the only exemption the Copyright Office and the Librarian Congress added to the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) recently. Effective as of Sunday, abandoned games that normally required an internet connection to the original developer’s servers can now be legally preserved by official third-parties, thanks to another exemption to the DMCA.

Abandoned Games Get Another Exemption

Abandoned games that did not require an internet connection already had an exemption allowing third parties to break the games' digital rights management (DRM) in order to preserve them and allow gamers to continue playing after the original developers have ended support.

However, that exemption didn’t include games that required an online connection to work. The Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress have now added an exemption so that third parties could also preserve this type of game. The exemption doesn’t allow just anyone to crack the DRM of old games. Only institutions that have legally obtained a copy of the game’s server code, as well as its local client code, can do so. These institutions are then allowed to break the DRM and modify the code as they see fit to preserve the games on modern operating systems.

Preserving Old Games Is “Fair Use”

The Copyright Office sees this type of game preservation as “fair use” and rejects argument that this will hurt sales. The logic is that since companies need to have already abandoned the games in question by the time this exemption can be used, there are no sales to be lost.

In some cases, preserving the games may actually be beneficial for the companies themselves in the future. For instance, in a hearing this year, James Clarendon, who worked at 2K Games in 2012 and helped developed Bioshock, faced a problem when the gaming company wanted to re-issue the same game five years later. Nobody had attempted to archive and preserve all of the game’s files in one place. 2K Games had to scour its employees’ computers to find all the missing pieces and put them all back together for the re-release. Even then, the company wasn’t able to re-issue the full original game.

As such, other gaming companies may soon realize that these preservation efforts may actually do them a favor, as in the future they could use the same code archives to launch their old titles on new platforms.