ESA (the Entertainment Software Association), the trade association for video game companies in the U.S, has published a long comment opposing proposed changes to copyright law in order to preserve online games. The changes were proposed by the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) in California.

The changes proposed by MADE would allow them and organizations like them to preserve online games in a playable state after developers have shut the servers down. They argue that this preservation effort is necessary in order to maintain a catalog of games and games culture for the future.

In their comment to the U.S Copyright office ESA claims that MADE is going to far by requesting copyright exemption for “dead” online games. Their concerns are:

  1. that these exemptions would allow museums and the like to infringe on their copyrights by using previously unpublished server-side code, (Duh, that’s kind of the point)
  2. that new rules would allow “the public” to play previously unavailable games that have had their service discontinued,
  3. that new rules are unnecessary because video game companies already have incentives to preserve their own games, and that current measures are sufficient.

A cynical, but perhaps warranted reading of the comment makes it clear that the ESA opposes these measures because its members are afraid it could damage future sales. Having older versions of online games freely available would make new installments less profitable, and allowing museums to preserve online games makes it more difficult to take legal action against similar civilian efforts like Blizzard’s takedown of a Vanilla WOW server in 2016.

Initiatives for the preservation of video games are nothing new, and neither are initiatives for online games specifically – the Electronic Frontier Federation (EFF) and ESA clashed over the same issues in 2015. These initiatives have, however, become more crowded in recent years in part due to the strength of the retro games industry, and in part because of increased media coverage. Video games are difficult to preserve as cultural artifacts because of their digital medium, asinine copyright laws and potential for change. The Video Game History Foundation was established last year for precisely this reason.

Hopefully it will become easier, not harder, to preserve video games in the future. If we’re going to hail them as cultural artifacts on equal terms with books, movies, theater and music we need to be able to preserve games for the future. Even if that comes with some technical and legal challenges.

This was first reported by TorrentFreak.

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