We keep hearing stories of how copyright is getting in the way of preserving or archiving cultural works. The latest is video games, which face a double whammy of obsolete proprietary hardware and restrictive copyright laws, making it quite difficult to legally preserve those games:
Even if preservationists had the resources to develop the kind of emulators that can stand the test of time, their task would be made all the more difficult by the tendency of game companies to worry more about piracy than preservation. This means that documentation on how their machines work is either non-existent (if the company goes out of business or fails to preserve it) or secret, so makers of emulators must laboriously reverse-engineer existing hardware.
Finally, there’s the copyright issue. Getting permission to preserve a game requires signoff by everyone with a stake in it–its creator, publisher, etc.
Given the current legal situation concerning emulation, it is not possible to preserve video games digitally using emulators and copy media to different physical layers without the manufacturer’s agreement. Establishing responsibility for the preservation of digital data must be seen as a priority. Awareness has to be raised among the manufacturers of console video game systems and console video games to reach agreements about how to preserve their work.
The article also notes that there probably needs to be a legal change, such as exempting such archival activity in the DMCA rulemaking process that just concluded — but so far it doesn’t seem like such changes are likely.
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