By: Ian Birnbaum and Matthew Gault
A new ruling from the Librarian of Congress is good news for video game preservation. In an 85-page ruling that covered everything from electronic aircraft controls to farm equipment diagnostic software, the Librarian of Congress carved out fair use exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for video games and software in general. These exemptions will make it easier for archivists to save historic video games and for museums to share that cultural history with the public.
“The Acting Register found that the record supported granting an expansion in the relatively discrete circumstances where a preservation institution legally possesses a copy of a video game’s server code and the game’s local code,” the Librarian of Congress said. “In such circumstances, the preservation activities described by proponents are likely to be fair uses.”
These rules are definitely good news for single-player games. “The big change for single-player games happened during the last DMCA review process in 2015, when the Copyright Office decided that museums and archives could break the online authentication for single-player titles that were just phoning home to a server for copy protection reasons,” Phil Salvador—a Washington, DC-area librarian and archivist who runs The Obscuritory, a site that focuses on discussing and preserving obscure, old games—told Motherboard. That 2015 ruling was due to expire this year, but thanks to pressure from activists it was renewed today instead.
“These rules are a big win,” Kendra Albert, a Clinical Instructional Fellow at the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School, told Motherboard. Albert represented the Software Preservation Network, which was one of the parties arguing for the change at the Copyright Office. “The 2015 rules cracked the door open for many things, but the exemptions that were granted here are potentially much, much broader.”
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