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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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  • by PocketPick ( 798123 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @12:54PM (#46150863)

    The problem George Broussard has with the issue is that companies like 3D Realms (while they were actually still a game development studio, and now during it's quasi-half-existence as a publisher) cling desperately to old properties as their their only source of revenue. They've failed miserably at actually releasing any updates to their own works or creating new properties, and so their revenue streams has devolved to porting Duke Nukem 3D to the Xbox, PlayStation, Steam and any other platform that comes to mind, and licensing everything else out to separate studios (such as the Duke Nukem Forever, and last year's Shadow Warrior update).

    The later, I assume, is the only thing that is holding them together as a corporate entity, along with anything that might of come out of the settlement with Gearbox (if they got anything).

    Take away their copyright to those IPs, and companies like 3D Realms would not last another year.

    As a result, his reaction to these kinds of comments is totally unsurprising.

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

    by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:00PM (#46150911) Homepage

    Exactly. Even if it comes down to earning money on works, long copyrights don't make sense. For example, here's a list of movies released 25 years ago in 1989 by US box office results:,1989 Obviously, some of those (e.g. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) might still be making the companies some money while others (Fletch Lives) probably aren't. Even the movies making money are probably not making huge amounts.

    Of the 3,166 titles that IMDB lists, how many are still actively making a decent amount of money for the companies that own them? If it is a small fraction, then why are we holding back Public Domain status on the vast majority just so a few movies can draw in a couple more bucks?

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:04PM (#46150955)

    Good news for Disney. Their trademark on Mickey will never 'expire'. The only way it goes away is if Disney is bankrupt and nobody want's to buy the trademarks from the bankruptcy trustee.

    The only thing that goes into the public domain in 2018 is 'Steamboat Willie'. Consider that 'Buried Treasure' (the greatest animation of the era) is already public domain, as it was done open source style. After hours, without Walt knowing a thing about it. Too bad their aren't better copies.

    Fair warning 'Buried Treasure' is NSFW.

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

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:13PM (#46151045)

    I mostly agree with you 100% with respect to the original work.

    The main issue I see though is its short enough that derivative works become an issue.

    Take books to movies. Runaway success like Hunger Games and Harry Potter will get made into movies within the 20 year copyright and the author will get some reward.

    But any book that didn't get made into a movie in the first 3-5 years would probably languish for the next 15, and then get strip-mined by the film industry.

    For some reason the idea of Hollywood sitting around strip mining books from the 90s without compensating the authors rubs me the wrong way. Especially knowing that they are literally waiting like vultures for them to roll over into the public domain precisely so they can deprive authors of any royalty or payment.

    Likewise, I dislike the idea of musicians having their music co-opted without their consent into jingles to peddle stain removers and political parties in commercials.

    So I propose that the copyright be broken up a bit.
    a) The rights to basic broadcast and redistribution expire after 20 years. So you can make a copy of a movie, or a book or whatever after 20 years for free. You can show it in a theatre or school, etc.

    b) However the rights over derivative works (book to movie, etc) and commercial re-purposing (e.g. advertising etc) are "75 years or life of the author + 5 years*, whichever is longer" or something, and requires active renewal for a nominal fee. (So that abandoned works automatically roll into the public domain quickly.)

    (* + 5 years to prevent the inevitable strip mining of an authors estate right after they die, capitalizing on the news of their death as free marketing for whatever they produce by strip mining. So the estate can benefit a bit from that.)

  • Re:Picasso (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:26PM (#46151219)

    This brings up a good point. While attribution and copyright are lumped together they should not be.

    You should have the right for your work to carry your name indefinitely, others shouldn't be allowed to claim your work as theirs.

    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.

    And if a company is so dependant on that one product, let them have the monopoly longer, have the state take a percentage cut out of that company's income and increase the tax over time.

    That should get the creative juices flowing.

  • by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:34PM (#46151323) Homepage

    And coincidentally, 15 years is the maximum duration that copyrights should last, according to the only proper study of economic incentives surrounding copyright [] of which I am aware.

    We could use some more research on this, but it sounds okay to me.

  • Re:And A Rebuttal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xorsyst ( 1279232 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:35PM (#46151349) Journal

    If I made a movie in 1989, I wouldn't care about you copying it to watch it.

    But I would care about:
    1. Someone else charging you for a copy.
    2. Someone else remixing the crap out of it to make something shitty that's still associated with my name.

    I don't think PD is the answer - perhaps things could go Creative Commons after 25 years instead?

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:42PM (#46151443)
    If you want a game like [your favorite game here]? Just write it; that's what the author did in the first place. Oh wait, you don't want to make the same investment they did? Boo hoo.
  • OK, see here's the deal.

    The RPS author mentions 20 years. I'm assuming it's because 20 years is an arbitrary-ish figure he settled on.

    It's 2014, so 20 years ago is 1994.

    Really what he was getting at originally was that it was somewhat bizarre that computer games from the 1980's are still considered copyrighted and illegal to distribute, even if the original developers, publishers, etc. have long since gone defunct.

    So I really think the author should have said 25 years or something like that but just for the sake of discussion let's stick with 20.

    The game Super Mario Bros. from Nintendo was released in 1985. That's almost thirty years ago. So, by a blanket application of his proposition, SMB would have gone PD back in 2005. Anyone could do anything they wanted with the game and there would be nothing Nintendo could do about it.

    But this smacks of unfair for one reason - Nintendo is still around. And they're still selling SMB. You can get it on Virtual Console on Wii, Wii U and 3DS.

    The author isn't necessarily proposing that a developer should only get to make money off of his or her creation for 20 years, or at least that's not how I'm interpreting it.

    Let's take another example - there's a critically acclaimed game called No One Lives Forever, a somewhat wacky spy caper with a female protagonist that has a parody of James Bond in the 60's thing happening. The game was developed by Monolith and published by Fox Interactive. Fox got bought by Activision, Activision merged with Blizzard, and Monolith got bought by Warner Bros. Long story short, no one can release the game on GOG because no one knows who owns it. But someone does, in theory. However it will be a long time before anyone sorts it out because there is, in theory, not enough money for anyone to care.

    By the way copyright works today, NOLF will be illegal to distribute until 2090. Who knows what will happen by then? If we lived in a perfect world where piracy and copyright infringement didn't exist, then the only places NOLF would exist are on the hard drives of Monolith and the discs of whoever bought the game - what are the odds either would be functional in 2090?

    But a dirty little secret is you can go download NOLF right now on torrent sites. Anyone can download it. Thanks to copyright infringement it will never truly go away.

    This happens in other sectors, too. There's about a hundred of the original Dr. Who episodes from the 1960's or so which are lost because the BBC taped over them. I'm not kidding, they seriously never thought that anyone would want to watch them in the future. But every so often a few turn up - they put nine episodes on iTunes a few months ago - all because someone somewhere found some tape they were either supposed to return to the BBC, or someone taped them and didn't realize they still had them.

    So going back to SMB, Nintendo is actually sort of doing the right thing here. Sure, they're basically selling a ROM image and an emulator, and the only people who get to play SMB are the ones who paid for it, but the point is they can get it, play it, and pay for it. It's available.

    But if Nintendo had closed up shop in 1995 or something would it really benefit anyone to have to wait until 2075 to be able to play SMB again in our piracy-does-not-exist fantasy land?

    GeorgeB3DR is getting upset about this because he is still selling those old games and still making a living off of it. The hard-and-fast 20 year proposal would fuck him over. But the point is he's still selling them.

    Let's say that we had a different rule - if your game hasn't been available for ten years for sale it goes PD. GeorgeB3DR would be fine. Nintendo would be fine. And we could distribute NOLF all we want.

    Of course, under this rule it's possible that ActiVendiFoxoLith would get their shit together and hash out who owns what and release it for sale on GOG or something. Sure, we wouldn't be able to just distribute NOLF for free that way, but isn't it better that we ha

  • Re:And A Rebuttal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:40PM (#46152507) Homepage

    That said, not all films/video games are made the same; And I am not just talking better/worse/more popular.

    Their are loads of films and games, both glaring failures and explosive successes, that make 50% of their money on opening week (and the following 49.99% the following four months).
    Their are other longform media that were never meant to make any noticeable amount of money the whole first year.

    Dwarf Fortress for example was released 8 years ago, and is making more than ever. And the creators have turned it into his full time career, meaning we might have 4-+ years left of development. Additionally, this income is necessary for this very worthy addition to our culture to continue to flourish.

  • Re:Picasso (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Phernost ( 899816 ) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @03:03PM (#46152865)

    You cannot create anything in a vacuum. Your time and resources may be of your own but, your effort is build upon the effort of those who came before you. Asking for repayment of your time and resources is reasonable. Asking for indefinite repayment on all similar creations, while holding to the naive idea that all effort was yours alone, is disingenuous if not fraudulent. If you have enhanced society with your contributed effort then, society should reward you.

    The only debate is the terms of that reward, nothing more, nothing less. The false notion that effort entitles one to complete dominion over similar effort is new, relatively speaking, and not universally agreed upon as being reasonable. I would argue that, monetary rewards be the only reward, and that false dominion is for those who are selfish and lack awareness.

    An honest man borrows and stands on the shoulders of others. A dishonest man claims he alone is the progenitor. See original quote.

    From your previous statements, it would seem you are dishonest, if not selfish ... or I'm reading into this too much.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson