Museum: Let Us Play Network Games Legally

A museum wants the right to revive abandoned online games. It’s called for a special exemption to copyright laws.

The idea comes from Oakland, California’s Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE), which has proposed an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That’s the law that says its illegal to manufacture or develop something that can bypass or undo copyright protection technologies (regardless of whether somebody actually breaches the copyright.)

To maintain the fair use principle as technology develops, every so often the US Copyright Office reviews and revises a list of exemptions. For example, the last review added in an exemption for jailbreaking phones, overriding an argument by manufacturers that this involved modifying operating system software, which inherently involved copying it in the first place.

The exemptions already include measures users take to continue to play no-longer-supported video games, even if that means modifying software to bypass attempts to connect to a (now defunct) server for authorization. However, this only covers play on the user’s own device rather than online play.

MADE is calling for an exemption for using online gaming, opening with the bold claim that “For future historians, video games like Minecraft and Second Life will say as much about 21st century America as Dicken’s Oliver Twist does about 19th-century Britain.”

The proposed exemption would be for local area network play in a library, museum or similar archive, rather than players competing over the Internet. The exemption would mean these facilities could bypass any authentication process that currently relies on connecting to an external and now-defunct server for authorization.

The Next Web notes the game industry isn’t keen on the idea, citing argument including:

  • the proposal is simply about wanting to play games rather than having any genuine historical or academic merit;
  • MADE charges an admission fee, meaning it provides games on a commercial basis and thus isn’t eligible for an extension; and
  • the official market in retro re-releases and remasters is big enough that there’s no cultural need for the exemption.
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