Every three years the US Copyright Office reviews and renews the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions at which time it considers exemptions to the law. It is currently looking at a proposal for allowing museums, libraries and archives to circumvent the DRM on abandoned online games such as FIFA World Cup, Nascar and The Sims.
The proposal was initiated by The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (The MADE). The Made is a 501c3 non-profit organization with a physical museum located in Oakland, California. The gallery claims to be “the only all-playable video game museum in the world, [and] houses over 5,300 playable games.”
The Made is concerned that certain multiplayer and single-player games that require a server to run will be lost if exemptions are not made to the DMCA. It is not looking to circumvent current games but instead is looking to preserve titles that have already been shut down by the producer — City of Heroes (and Villains) would be a good example.
“Although the Current Exemption does not cover it, preservation of online video games is now critical,” a Made representative wrote to the Copyright Office. “Online games have become ubiquitous and are only growing in popularity. For example, an estimated fifty-three percent of gamers play multiplayer games at least once a week, and spend, on average, six hours a week playing with others online.”
The number of abandoned games is not insignificant, either. According to the Electronic Arts “Online Services Shutdown” list, more than 300 titles and servers dropped out of service just in the last four years. These games are not played anymore because they require an active server.
Understandably, a game company cannot be expected to operate a server after a game exceeds its lifespan; that is not financially feasible. Individuals have often tried running independent servers for such games but what happens in a lot of those cases is they end up with a cease and desist notice from the copyright holder. This exact thing happened to the Felmyst legacy WoW server back in July.
The Made and other groups such as the digital rights group Public Knowledge want non-profits to be allowed to preserve such games before they fall into obscurity. The exemptions would apply to any abandoned games that require an online server to operate.
The move is currently being considered and is open to public comment. It appears to have a fair amount of public support but commenting from the opposition has only been open for two days so far.
This is not the first time such a revision has been proposed. Back in 2015, a similar request was made but was struck down by the Register of Copyrights, reasoning that the specific games mentioned in the proposal could still be played on local area networks.
In the current request, The Made argues, “Local multiplayer options are increasingly rare, and many games no longer support LAN connected multiplayer capability. More troubling still to archivists, many video games rely on server connectivity to function in single-player mode and become unplayable when servers shut down.”
Supporters of the proposal had until December 18, 2017, to submit comments or evidence to the US Copyright Office. Opponents to the request now have until February 12, 2018, to present written arguments against it. Supporters will then be allowed a rebuttal period until March 14. The USCO will make its decision soon after the final rebuttals are read.