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Games Your Rights Online

Why Games Should Be In the Public Domain 360

Robotron23 writes "Rock, Paper, Shotgun writer John Walker shook a hornet's nest by suggesting old videogames should enter the public domain during GOG's Time Machine sale. George Broussard of Duke Nukem fame took to Twitter, saying the author should be fired. In response to these comments RPS commissioned an editorial arguing why games and other media should enter the public domain much more rapidly than at present. 'I would no more steal a car than I would tolerate a company telling me that they had the exclusive rights to the idea of cars themselves.' says Walker, paraphrasing a notorious anti-piracy ad (video). 'However, there are things I'm very happy to "steal," like knowledge, inspiration, or good ideas...It was until incredibly recently that amongst such things as knowledge, inspiration and good ideas were the likes of literature and music.'"
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Why Games Should Be In the Public Domain

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  • Picasso (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PvtVoid ( 1252388 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @12:31PM (#46150629)
    "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal."

    Pablo Picasso
  • Yeah, right ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @12:38PM (#46150701) Homepage

    Sorry, but the copyright lobby has more or less assured that the Public Domain is essentially dead.

    They've managed to get laws passed which more or less say "if any commercial entity has ever made money off it, the exclusive right to do so is theirs in perpetuity".

    They can afford to throw far more money into the pockets of politicians, and the US has more or less staked its future on IP. There's just no way in hell you'll see things going into the public domain ever faster, because I fear the way things are, things will never again go into the public domain -- unless it means a company can claim your stuff was in the public domain and then assert ownership of it.

    Simply not going to happen.

  • Yeah.. (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @12:39PM (#46150715)

    Artificial protection schemes should last 10 years.. Be it copyrights or patents.

    10 years. You get exclusive rights to your shit for 10 years. Then anyone can do anything they want with it and tell you to fuck off.

    As it stands now you can create entirely new humans and release them to the world at 21 faster than stuff enters the public domain. That's fucked up.

  • Re:And A Rebuttal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @12:40PM (#46150721) Homepage

    ...and I don't really care about his excuses.

    If it's been 20 or 30 years since you published something, then your time has passed already and it's time for you to step aside and allow the next generation a chance.

    In the intervening period, a work has either become too important to hoard or too worthless to justify being a burden on anyone.

    After 20 years, it's time for you to allow the next group of people to have the advantages that you were allowed.

  • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @12:49PM (#46150833)

    It seems absurd to me that a work be protected for 95 years when the medium it was produced for will last less than a decade.

    Paying GoG for their work in *adapting* the game - spending the time to troubleshoot or repack the installer, repack the system updates, correctly create the auto-configuration for Dosbox or other compatibility software, and so on - I'm perfectly fine with.

    But the point is valid. We LOSE more than we gain from the public domain these days. Almost no software, except that specifically gifted to the public domain, is available like that. The media they are stored on dies, and those whose goal is preserving our digital history against the simple ravages of compatibility and bitrot must be willing to skirt the law in order to do so, which is frankly asinine.

    The expansion of knowledge requires that it be brought to the public domain. I propose we limit copyright to a term no greater than that of patent, and require that the source code of any software be provided in the copyright filings so that it cannot be lost.

  • Re:Yeah, right ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:03PM (#46150951) Homepage
    Actually, it's 2023. And another important correction. Mickey Mouse [wikipedia.org] cannot enter the public domain, because Disney has trademarked the character. Certain recordings can enter the public domain. but that doesn't mean people will be able to make new cartoons showing Mickey Mouse. Having century old recordings of Mickey go into the public domain will have zero effect on Disney's bottom line, since they do not sell these old cartoons anyway.
  • by Simulant ( 528590 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:08PM (#46151007) Journal
    ...and as far as I'm concerned, it is.

    No you don't have the right to make money indefinitely from work you, or in most cases others, did once.
    No you don't have the right to hold our culture hostage.

    I don't even think IP should be transferable, or if necessary, only very temporarily.
  • Re:And A Rebuttal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Baldorcete ( 1184665 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:21PM (#46151149)
    The answer is simple: Greed. They don't want their old (free) titles competing with the new.
  • Happy medium (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sideslash ( 1865434 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:27PM (#46151229)
    When books are out of print, or videogames not available for purchase for a certain length of time, then third parties should be able to "do something with them" without being labeled pirates. Original creators should still collect royalties, and I think there should be clearly established legal guidelines for each industry for royalties to be paid to the original copyright holder so people know what to expect. No negotiation is required, standard rates will apply if you let your stuff "expire" like that.

    If the concern is that works are just being lost from our culture, a compromise move like this would address it, and provide people with incentive to keep their stuff available for sale.
  • I propose we limit copyright to a term no greater than that of patent, and require that the source code of any software be provided in the copyright filings so that it cannot be lost.

    I feel your second point is terribly important, and often lost in the discussion. When an author writes a book, and it enters the public domain even after 100 years, we don't have problems then reproducing the work 100 years later. If one copy survives, we can reproduce it with a little work. If you have a copy of a piece of software from 100 years ago, who knows what your options will be? The operating system that your software ran on will no longer be in use. The hardware that the operating system ran on will no longer exist. Even if there are emulators, there's the issue of copy protection-- Will keys be made available? Will the authentication/activation server be running?

    The only way to hope to make these things available for posterity is to provide source code. Then, even if you have to rewrite it a bit to make it work on current platforms, you'll be able to do that.

    Therefore, I believe we should change copyright law for software, to say that for a piece of software to be protected by copyright, a copy of the source code must be provided to the Library of Congress. It can sit in a vault for however long the copyright holds, at which point it's republished under the public domain.

  • by tbannist ( 230135 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:44PM (#46151495)

    The fact that GOG.com is a viable business kills his point that old games have no economic value.

    Actually, it does not. GOG.com does value-added work on old games. There is no evidence that the games themselves maintain any significant economic benefit without that work. As I understand it, GOG.com fixes the game and those fixes should be entitled to copyright protection for a suitable length of time, however, the underlying games should no longer have any protection. Do you really think it's reasonable that the source code for Pacman, for example, will be protected by copyright until 2055 at the earliest?

  • The problem is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pumpkin Tuna ( 1033058 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:01PM (#46151741)

    Everything should enter the public domain quicker than it does now.

  • by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:20PM (#46152091)
    When an AC calls everyone freeloaders, they're a troll. Discussion actually involves... a discussion. An AC firing off an inflammatory comment and then leaving, never to return, is not a discussion.
  • Re:Picasso (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:21PM (#46152115)

    It's your right to keep it locked in a safe. If you share it then it is no longer yours. You can scream mine mine mine all you want, but you don't deserve to be perpetually paid for the limited time and effort you invested *once*. Want to keep getting paid? Then keep creating.

  • Re:Picasso (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:28PM (#46152271)
    Well, the point of copyright law is to support the arts and increase common culture. So if short copyrights result in a richer culture of works, then it should be the case. There is no 'god given right' here, all we have are a set of laws intended to benefit everyone, helping the author enforce their will is just a side effect or implementation detail.
  • Re:Picasso (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:31PM (#46152315) Journal

    But here's the thing. There is no natural right to a story or an idea. It's not like a physical object that if I take it from you, you no longer have it and no longer have use of it.

    So you tell a story and you don't want anybody else to tell that same story, or to tell a similar story, or to tell a completely different story using characters in your story. What about my right to free speech? Why does your desire to maintain exclusivity of an idea you came up with trump my natural right to free speech? I'm not trying to force you to do anything. But you are trying to force me to shut up. So if you're going to employ the government's monopoly on force to make me shut up, there better be a damn good reason.

    And there is a good reason why my right to free speech should, temporarily, be sacrificed in favor of your artificial, government-enforced monopoly on an idea. We collectively agree to curtail our free speech rights for a limited time to encourage people to come up with new ideas. It's a deal. It's an artificial social contract wherein we collectively agree to forgo our free speech rights for a time such that you may gain reasonable profits from your new idea, and then we all get the benefit of the creation of the new idea. The Founders recognized this in their establishment of the copyright and patent offices.

    So you see the difference? You're acting like you have a fundamental, natural right to your idea/story/song/whatever, but you don't. You have a temporary, artificial, government-enforced privilege. I have the natural, unalienable free speech right to repeat your idea/story/song/whatever. So don't act like somebody copying your work is infringing upon your natural rights. Your desire to maintain exclusivity of your work is infringing upon my free speech rights, and I'll let you do that for a time, but not forever, and not if you're a dick about it. And the media companies in the US are hell-bent on maintaining their privilege forever, and are totally being dicks about it, too.

  • Re:And A Rebuttal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:39PM (#46152483) Homepage

    The problem with saying "Public Domain isn't the answer" is that Public Domain is the essential trade-off for copyright. The only reason people are given copyrights is that they are allowed a temporary monopoly on a work they created before it falls into the Public Domain. The Public Domain then helps feed the next round of creators who make works that copyright protects before they, in turn, fall into the Public Domain.

    What we have today is works that essentially never leave copyright. If I released a book/movie/game/etc today, it would be covered by copyright until 2109 (assuming no law changes between now and then - a big assumption). The logic behind the copyright extension was that it would encourage the creator to make more books/movies/games/etc. The only problem is that I'd be 134 in the year 2109. If I'm even still alive then, I doubt I'll be in any shape to create many more works. If I'm not alive, then what is my copyright encouraging me to do? I doubt I'll rise zombie-like from the dead to pen a book about the after-life. ("It's Cold In The Ground" by Zombie Jason. But it before I eat your BRAAAIINNNSSS!!!!)

    If the copyright expires on your work, you don't get any say in what people do with it. Were Shakespeare to come back to life today, he wouldn't have any say over some movie company making a modern musical version of Romeo and Juliet. Da Vinci wouldn't have a say in someone taking an image of the Mona Lisa and selling it on a postcard. If your work goes Public Domain and someone makes a "remix" version of it, that doesn't reflect poorly on you, but on the remix maker.

    Copyrights NEED to expire at some point. It's hard enough trying to find out who owns the rights to Random Game From The 80s. Imagine trying to track down the rights holder for A Mid-Summer Night's Dream to make a movie based on it. It's not a question of SHOULD copyrights expire, but WHEN should they. I, and I'd wager most people here, think that copyright term length has been extended way past its usefulness and should be seriously trimmed back. (Personally, I'd go back to 14 years plus a one-time 14 year renewal, but at this point I'd take one 50 year copyright term as an improvement.)

  • Abandoned works (Score:3, Insightful)

    by darkwing_bmf ( 178021 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @03:00PM (#46152803)

    As long as the game is actively for sale, I don't see anything wrong with the copyright holder continuing to make money from it. The problem is when games and other works can no longer be found for sale. For other works the copyright ownership might be unknowable. For these works, they should be in the public domain. To me this strikes the right balance. If someone cares enough to keep the game working on current hardware, they can keep the copyright. If they no longer care about the game, then the public can have it.

  • Re:Picasso (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rasmusbr ( 2186518 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @04:34PM (#46154143)

    Copying your work to give away for free or to sell should have a much much shorter leash, as should the privilege to restrict others from creating new things based on your work. 5 years seems more than enough to me in this digital age.

    Why? Why the hell should that be the case? If I pour loads of MY time and MY effort and MY resources into creating something, then it's MY creation and I want to keep it then I can, because it's MINE.

    Sorry, but it just boils my p**s that everyone these days just thinks they have a God*-given right for unfettered access to anything they like for free,

    * other deities may be available

    You are free to keep your creations to yourself. I suggest a drawer, or a good safe if your stuff is likely to be valuable to others.

    Now, it might be nice for society if it were possible to release your creations publicly and still have them be "yours". This would have to be described as a service that the government would provide for you. I think it is reasonable that such a service would have certain limits, otherwise you're asking the government to spend money (for example on maintaining courts and archives and what not) in order to provide an unlimited service for you.

  • Re:Picasso (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @05:32PM (#46155017) Journal

    So you see the difference? You're acting like you have a fundamental, natural right to your idea/story/song/whatever, but you don't.

    It's called "property rights", and yes, he does.

    No, he doesn't. Intellectual "property" is not property.

    I have the natural, unalienable free speech right to repeat your idea/story/song/whatever.

    No, you don't.

    Yes, I do.

  • Re:Picasso (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @06:02PM (#46155485)
    Spoken like a consumer, not a creator.

The other line moves faster.