DMCA exemption carved to help preserve old games

The US Library of Congress has created an exemption to copyright law to make it legal to preserve abandoned video games, including online server code required to play them.

Polygon's Allegra Frank reports.

"Many modern video games — which may be played on a personal computer or a dedicated gaming console — require a network connection to a remote server operated by the game's developer to enable core functionalities," the document explains. Thus, when developers are no longer able or willing to maintain these servers, games — and gamers — suffer the consequences. The Registrar concluded that "the record supported granting an exemption for video games that require communication with an authentication server to allow gameplay when the requisite server is taken offline." This means that, despite the DMCA's language blocking this kind of activity, fans, museums and libraries can now take necessary action to continue playing server-based games.

The exemption explicitly permits old anti-piracy code to be cracked in pursuit of public archival work.

Here's the EFF, reporting that the Librarian also renewed exemptions to allow jailbreaking cellphones, and extended them to all "portable all-purpose mobile computing devices," i.e. tablets and smartwatches.

The exemptions are needed thanks to a fundamentally flawed law that forbids users from breaking DRM, even if the purpose is a clearly lawful fair use. As software has become ubiquitous, so has DRM. Users often have to circumvent that DRM to make full use of their devices, from DVDs to games to smartphones and cars.

The law allows users to request exemptions for such lawful uses—but it doesn't make it easy. Exemptions are granted through an elaborate rulemaking process that takes place every three years and places a heavy burden on EFF and the many other requesters who take part. Every exemption must be argued anew, even if it was previously granted, and even if there is no opposition. The exemptions that emerge are limited in scope. What is worse, they only apply to end users—the people who are actually doing the ripping, tinkering, jailbreaking, or research—and not to the people who make the tools that facilitate those lawful activities.

The new exemption, however, does not apply broadly to all online games, according to Polygon:

Games with content stored entirely on the developer's server, like many multiplayer online role-playing games, cannot be legally modified by gamers or otherwise.