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DRM Electronic Frontier Foundation The Courts Games

DMCA Exemption Campaign Would Let Fans Run Abandoned Games 157

An anonymous reader writes: Games that rely on remote servers became the norm many years ago, and as those games age, it's becoming more and more common for the publisher to shut them down when they're no longer popular. This is a huge problem for the remaining fans of the games, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act forbids the kind of hacks and DRM circumvention required for the players to host their own servers. Fortunately, the EFF and law student Kendra Albert are on the case. They've asked the Copyright Office for an exemption in the case of players who want to keep abandoned games alive. It's another important step in efforts to whittle away at overreaching copyright laws.
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DMCA Exemption Campaign Would Let Fans Run Abandoned Games

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  • Don't do it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2015 @10:38PM (#49026365) Homepage Journal

    Better idea: let people get really pissed at our current state of intellectual property laws. Preferably before the next Micky Mouse Shall Never Enter the Public Domain Copyright Extension Act.

    • Most people don't care. They're happy to consue whatever media the mainstream offers them. It doesn't even occur to them that there is such a thing as public domain, except in a vague way, an awareness that some stories are so old that anyone can tell them. Even then I think they usually think that the rights to Snow White are owned by Disney.
  • This type of exemption is just a crutch that can be rescinded any time it comes up for review. We need congress to codify it into law to be permenant.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      yeah should be simple enough to make it so that you should be able to access the content in the intended fashion if the company shuts down servers...

      or better yet, how about making it into a law that if you own the game and data content, you can hack it to connect to where-ever. fuck their in-app payment locks.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ganjadude ( 952775 )
        make the law simple

        If company hosts content on its own servers, and it shuts down servers. company loses all rights to any IP related to the product unless they allow people to run their own server. (which would allow people to run their own servers)
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          They will just keep one server going and charge $999.99/month to access it. They will consider the minimal cost worth it because they want people to buy new games and sequels to classics, not carry on playing them.

  • Counter-productive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2015 @10:45PM (#49026415)

    Don't legitimize the DMCA further by asking for "exceptions", the argument should be that things like remote servers and always-connected DRM are illegal violations of a consumer's property rights.

    • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2015 @11:05PM (#49026475)

      I'm a little confused by your argument. Copy "rights" are entirely invented by copyright law. DMCA is also copyright law. Consumers have no innate "right" to intellectual "property", just as producers have no innate right - only virtual rights granted by law. I'm not thrilled with the DMCA, but I do recognize that it's not really any different than letting people stake a claim on an idea/recording/etc for 90+ years.

      I think this is a very pragmatic move which improves our situation.

      • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2015 @11:45PM (#49026619)

        > producers have no innate right - only virtual rights granted by law.

        To quote Terry Pratchett's book, the Hogfather:

        YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

        Intellectual property, the power of knowledge, can be considered as valid as any other concept. And it has history and law behind it.

        • Fair enough, but as an ideology it has some major flaws and inconsistencies. I've never heard anyone base an ideology around government-enforced virtual property. It would certainly make for interesting reading.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Civilization is an emergent property.

          AC

        • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
          And it has history and law behind it.

          This must be from an American perspective. The history of copyright law is, compared to other types of law, so short that it really doesn't have much history.

          If copyright laws had history, we would have lost a lot more works of authors from antiquitity to, say, Mozart, than we actually did. Had the concept of copyright existed 2000 years ago, building up culture (for lack of a better word) would have been impossible.

          Also, copyright laws should promote the sciences a

          • Recorded copyright law goes back to the 1700's in England, printing privileges date back to the 1400's in Venice. That's roughly 500 years of precedent. Or are you somehow saying that laws more recent than that lack validity?

            • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
              Recorded copyright law goes back to the 1700's in England, ...

              The 1700's are about a few thousand years after authors started producing works in writing, and about a really, really long time after the first cave paintings (which, under todays copyright laws, would absolutely qualify as protected works). So, copyright laws are a recent phenomenon compared to the type of activity they apply to.

              ... printing privileges date back to the 1400's in Venice.

              Printing privileges were more about using a certain

              • > Really short when compared to more mature laws, e.g. laws against theft and murder.

                Does being thousands of years old really make a law mature, wise, or appropriate today? Or somehow "innate", which was part of The Mighty Yar's original point about copyright? Then oh, my, let's ignore the last 150 years of US law and centuries of various country's laws and return to Old Testament slavery law from Exodus, at the core of all the Hebrew originated faiths:

                Exodus 21:20-21 If a ma

                • I'm pretty thoroughly married to the libertarian ideology of "Life, Liberty, and the (somewhat squishy) Persuit of Happiness" as the only innate rights. Libertarian ideals themselves are not much older than copyright, so I don't put much weight on ancient history when it comes to legitimacy. Another - probably more universal - example is the philosophy of science. Very new, but far more successful than any previous attempt to describe the natural world.

        • Your quote doesn't fit your statement. The quote implies that there is no such thing as rightness. And the GP was implying that there is no such thing as rights. This is clearly true. You have no rights you cannot defend, or that nobody else will defend on your behalf. And thus, the GP's statement is entirely accurate. There is no natural right to prevent copies. That's an artificial right granted by governments for the purpose of profit. The original copyright law was enacted at Alexandria. They had the ri

          • > The quote implies that there is no such thing as rightness.

            The Hogfather quote is a bit deeper than that, I think. It implies that many human beliefs and policies have no physical basis, but we use them and call them "real" anyway. The very concept of "rights" is itself one of those beliefs and policies, so it's very difficult for them to be "innate". Their being "innate" does not make them more real, in this case, than mercy or justice.

      • What are you trying to say? That without copyright laws that people would not be able to watch movies because they could not own intellectual property? You seem very confused.
        • Of course they could watch movies. They would not be able to "own" them, or have any rights over them whatsoever.

          • I think you are confusing the concept of ownership with that of copyright holding. They would own their own copy of the movie, either on disc or the bits on their hard drive and have the right to copy, change/edit, sell, or give that copy to anyone. They would in effect have a right to all ideas and concepts invented or discovered by man. A sort of shared heritage.
            • Yeah, I'm not sure where we are disagreeing?

              • You repeatedly said that "[consumers] would not be able to 'own' [copies of movies/etc]".
                I repeatedly said the opposite, that voiding copyright law would not in any way effect ownership law. And that in teh absence of copyright the default state is everyone owns the IP, not that no one does.
                • I was trying to be clear that I was referring to virtual rights, but it is a hard concept to discuss when straightforward terms have been co-opted for another purpose. To be clear, when I said that consumers have no innate right to intellectual property, I meant the pretend "property" created by copyright law - not the physical media that it resides on.

                  I was objecting to "Shadow of Eternity's" implication that the DMCA infringes on a fundamental right. It does, but in exactly the same way as other intellect

      • Wouldn't this be easily solved by game companies?

        All they have to do is move the servers to point to some low powered/outdated server that times out and otherwise makes playing extremely unpleasant.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The DMCA is US law. How exactly is it not already legitimized?

      • The DMCA is US law. How exactly is it not already legitimized?

        Lots of laws are illegal. And a whole lot of laws are illegitimate (technically legal but bought by a special interest group despite how democracy is supposed to work).

    • By granting formalized exemptions and exceptions you start to tear away the logical legal blocks that make the law legitimate. When the exceptions and exemptions become unmaintainable or too confusing the law would require a redesign essentially. Poking holes in the law leads to eventually the dissolution of the law and a replacement law put in place, hopefully one that is more agreeable.

  • All this will do is at best stop the companies from filing DMCA take downs on the fans; it will in no way obligate the company to release their internal software for the servers which ran the game.

    • by Zordak ( 123132 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2015 @11:48PM (#49026635) Homepage Journal

      All this will do is at best stop the companies from filing DMCA take downs on the fans; it will in no way obligate the company to release their internal software for the servers which ran the game.

      That's not a bug, that's a feature. They don't lose their copyright just because they stop running a server. This is just an exemption that wouldn't let them sue gamers for DMCA violations when they reverse engineer their own servers.

      • by dabadab ( 126782 )

        They don't lose their copyright just because they stop running a server.

        But they should if one were to take seriously all that is said about the reasons why we have copyright and how it should serve the good of the society as a whole.

        • by Zordak ( 123132 )

          They don't lose their copyright just because they stop running a server.

          But they should if one were to take seriously all that is said about the reasons why we have copyright and how it should serve the good of the society as a whole.

          Perhaps, but I think that's a little extreme. I am, rather, in favor of a more reasonable copyright term. (I would not have upheld the current copyright term if I were on the Supreme Court, since "life of the author" is not a determinate time.) But even then, if they never publish the source code, copyright doesn't come into it. All you could do is copy the game binary, so you would still have to reverse engineer a game server. That's the problem with the DMCA. It reaches over traditional copyright boundari

    • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

      I wonder at what point copyright and trademark enforcement diverged, in that if a company fails to defend its trademarks (or even monetise them), they lose the right of claim on it?

      • I wonder at what point copyright and trademark enforcement diverged

        Copyright and trademark law have different origins. They never fully converged in the first place. The fact that there's some sort of unified "intellectual property" to diverge in the first place is a lie of the industry [gnu.org]. In any case, copyright and patent law do have the equitable defense of estoppel by laches [wikipedia.org], which is sort of analogous to genericization of trademark but not nearly as broad in scope.

        • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

          aha... I learned something new today :) Actually, I sort of knew about laches but couldn't remember what it was called. Having used it a couple times, too. I must be going senile.

  • by Headw1nd ( 829599 ) on Tuesday February 10, 2015 @11:31PM (#49026565)
    Does this mean I'll be able to play City of Heroes again?
    • "Nope, sorry, we needed the disk space and bandwidth for $other_thing, it was deleted over a year ago. Developer machines and such were all replaced twice since the last checkout/build and we're not even sure we can get it to compile for $os anymore due to outdated libs and such.

      Here's a coupon good for free shipping for any downloadable content for $suckiest_game_ever that you purchase in the next 42 minutes. Now go away."

    • by C0R1D4N ( 970153 )
      God I hope so, maybe one of the guys who worked at Paragon had created backups of the server code that could mysteriously appear somewhere.
  • Gamers are stupid (Score:1, Insightful)

    by ahbond ( 768662 )
    If they simply refuse to purchase a game that requires this sort of remote server authentication, then the industry will cease this sort of behavior. "Caveat emptor", let the buyer beware. Cheers, -AB
  • I am not a programmer for any of the giant game companies, so I might be missing out on something here. I expected that the games called back to the producer's servers by hard-coded names or IPs; this would make it rather difficult for fans to set up their own servers unless they did something a lot more clever than just setting up a server in their basement. Has there been a proof-of-principle on this with a reasonably recent game that has had its online components neutered by its parent company?
    • Sometimes to access a site, you need to connect to a proxy. Every piece of software that connects to the next has to assume it needs to be routed through a proxy. The reverse engineers can write a small proxy which reroutes those particular addresses to something else.

      Still I find it hard to believe that IP's hard code IPs. They are prone to change.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      Generally they dont hard-code IP addresses, just domain names.
      And when it comes to the server clones I have seen before (e.g. the GameSpy clones made after the shutdown of that service) people either hacked the clients to point to the new domain names or used hosts files or proxies to intercept requests and point them at the new locations.

    • I am not a programmer for any of the giant game companies, so I might be missing out on something here. I expected that the games called back to the producer's servers by hard-coded names or IPs; this would make it rather difficult for fans to set up their own servers

      Not only are you not a programmer, but you're also not an IT professional, obviously. It's not difficult to create dummy IPs, nor to patch games to use different servers. However, using hardcoded IPs is relatively rare. Most games use name resolution like the rest of us.

      • That is a rather harsh assumption you just made, there. Perhaps I was insufficiently specific in my comment here, as I was thinking specifically of how one would do this for abandoned (disconnected) games on gaming consoles. Have you tried to access a hosts file (or anything similar to it) on a gaming system? Sure it's no problem on a PC but have altering that on a Sony or Microsoft console doesn't necessarily seem to be as easy.

        And even once you get that figured out, there is then the matter of gett
        • That is a rather harsh assumption you just made, there

          Actually, I don't necessarily believe it. I said it for effect, because seriously, it's okay to think about these things before posting.

          Have you tried to access a hosts file (or anything similar to it) on a gaming system? Sure it's no problem on a PC but have altering that on a Sony or Microsoft console doesn't necessarily seem to be as easy.

          Yeah, but the solution is pretty simple: a gateway running on another machine.

          And even once you get that figured out, there is then the matter of getting your friends to do the same. Online multiplayer isn't much of an accomplishment if there is only one player.

          Yes, that's certainly the limiting factor. However, people are still playing most of the old games for which a competing server was developed.

          Anyway, this isn't mostly about console gaming, this is mostly about PC gaming, since most of the abandoned games with alternate server implementations are

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            A hosts file or a gateway running on another machine won't help if your replacement server has a public key not trusted by the private CA hardcoded into the game.

            • A hosts file or a gateway running on another machine won't help if your replacement server has a public key not trusted by the private CA hardcoded into the game.

              This is true. In that case you will need a patched game executable which skips the key check. On the 360 you can use Microsoft's own USB to SATA cable to access your storage. I don't know about any of the other platforms, but this is mostly only an issue for dead or relatively dead platforms like Xbox and 360 anyway. My understanding is that all of those have been blown wide open at this point.

  • Already legal? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2015 @12:12AM (#49026715)

    I thought reverse engineering the server protocol was perfectly legal. Samba/CIFS and Bitkeeper are two protocols for which this was an example.

    • by CRC'99 ( 96526 )

      ... and not developed in the USA.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The general practice of reverse-engineering is treated differently across different areas of law; prohibited under some, allowed under others. It's not accurate to say that it's 'perfectly legal' by any means. Circumvention of technological access control systems is generally prohibited under the DMCA, so hacking any game server software (or any other type of software for that matter) that acts to securely manage access to copyrighted works violates the DMCA.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      The difference is that Samba and Bitkeeper don't use the online servers as part of their anti-piracy solution in the way most of the games do. Its not the reverse engineering of the server protocols as such that's illegal, its the fact that these server clones let you play with pirated copies.

    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      What happens if the company refuses to release the server binary program for fear that competitors may reverse engineer their game? Do the companies have a chance to say no? After all, it's an abandoned game, therefore there are only a few hundred players that are interested in playing the game.

      They should have a choice to refuse releasing the server code as they may have a successful game that's based on the old, abandoned game.

      • I'm ok with that, as long as they also have to refund anyone that owns a copy of their game and still wants to play it.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        IMHO, they should have that right, but the way they say no is keep a server running the code and accessible to the users. If there's only 100 users, it wouldn't take many resources to keep a VM running the server somewhere. Alternatively, they could buy back the licensed clients.

        Copyright should have a use it or lose it provision.

        • by gnupun ( 752725 )

          If there's only 100 users, it wouldn't take many resources to keep a VM running the server somewhere.

          Instead of the company going through that hassle, why can't these 100 users find another game?! Few users means this game is not that much fun anymore. This is just a super lame excuse to trick/force companies to share their code for nothing/free.

          Copyright should have a use it or lose it provision.

          That's bullshit. The code belongs to the copyright holder to do as he/she sees fit during the copyrighted phase,

          • by Ihlosi ( 895663 )
            Instead of the company going through that hassle, why can't these 100 users find another game?!

            Maybe they like this particular game? I'd love the chance to play City of Heroes or Earth&Beyond again. I wouldn't mind paying for that opportunity, either.

            Few users means this game is not that much fun anymore.

            Dictating what other people have to consider "fun" is ridiculous. This is just a super lame excuse to trick/force companies to share their code for nothing/free.

            They could keep a server runn

          • why can't these 100 users find another game?

            Because the developers of the games that are shut off sue the developers of too-similar games for copyright infringement. For example, Tetris DS has been shut down, and The Tetris Company has successfully sued cloners.

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            Because they like that game AND they paid for it. Shutting down the server is just a super lame excuse to trick/force them to buy another game.

            Copyright is a grant from the public domain for a limited time to promote the useful arts and sciences ONLY. That is, to make more works available. Using it to make something unavailable is the ultimate in abuses and absolutely should cause loss of the copyright. I would go so far as to actually require the release of the source once the term is up (it should probabl

    • by Bogtha ( 906264 )

      I thought reverse engineering the server protocol was perfectly legal.

      In theory, yes. In practice, the DMCA can be used to squash interoperable implementations. Look at bnetd [wikipedia.org], for example. Despite it being a completely separate implementation of the protocol, Blizzard used the DMCA to successfully sue the project maintainers.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      It is, depending on your jurisdiction, but there can be copyright issues. For example, if encryption is used then the encryption keys are protected by copyright. Maybe you can hack the game to change the keys, but if not you can't include the developer's keys in your server without violating their copyright.

      Some games console manufacturers did a similar thing. The console checks for a particular string, say "Produced by or under licence from Sega", in the ROM. If it isn't there the game won't run. If someon

      • Some games console manufacturers did a similar thing. The console checks for a particular string, say "Produced by or under licence from Sega", in the ROM. If it isn't there the game won't run. If someone puts it there without getting a licence they can be sued for copyright infringement

        The console maker can sue but won't necessarily win. In the United States, for example, copying a "magic string" of this sort is not infringement per Sega v. Accolade and Lexmark v. Static Control Components. If a publisher of an original game adds the magic string without permission from the console maker, is sued in the United States for copyright infringement by the console maker, and has a lawyer aware of these cases, he will likely defeat the console maker the same way that Accolade defeated Sega.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          That's why Sega put the "by it under licence from Sega" bit in. Makes it not just about copyright.

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            Sega's TMSS was forcing developers of unlicensed games to falsely identify their games as licensed, yet Accolade won in court even on Lanham Act (trademark or passing-off) claims.

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

              That message didn't appear until the Dreamcast. It was a reaction to their loss to Accolade.

              • by tepples ( 727027 )

                "PRODUCED BY OR UNDER LICENSE FROM SEGA ENTERPRISES LTD." in the Dreamcast was exactly the same wording that had been used in Genesis TMSS.

  • Why does it take a student to do this...? No actual lawyers willing to take this case on pro bono?

    • No actual lawyers willing to take this case on pro bono?

      I don't think many lawyers who supported the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act would support limiting anti-circumvention rights under copyright.

      (Oh, you meant the other kind of bono.)

  • by phmadore ( 1391487 ) on Wednesday February 11, 2015 @01:31AM (#49026893) Homepage Journal
    actually exist. As an OpenTTD player, active that is, I can tell you that for some the fun of old games doesn't ever really go away. In the intervening decades since the original TTD, the community has actually advanced the game play well beyond what the creator was aiming at. If only graphics weren't so expensive to produce (time or otherwise), I think we'd see a major improvement on that too. But as I said, I'm an active player. There are similar communities, like the ones around Age of Empires 2 and Rise of Nations. The former seems to have a lot more success doing mods. This would be really, really awesome for games like Rise of Nations. I think it's a legitimate request even in the eyes of the copyright holders. In this case they've actively decided not to profit from the games online anymore. Users with legitimate rights (ie, purchased) should be free at least to keep their software functioning properly. The case could eventually gaslight the whole update scam some parts of the industry have been running for a long time. I'm not saying that someone should sanely be using software from the 1990s or anything, I'm just saying that they should have the right to try if they paid for the software. Similar to how you should not be limited on the number of devices you can sync a digital goods store to (if you violate the agreement in other ways, that's another issue, and arbitrary device limits are another way of forcing people to spend more money in some cases). In summary: fuck yeah.
  • When you buy one of those DRM games there is an implicit contract. The seller has agreed to provide authorization.
    Contracts work both ways.
    I believe Sony has already run into this problem.
    All it takes is one class action suit (for the value of the purchase price of the game per plaintiff) against the current copyright holder to make it too expensive for any company to shut down the servers. Yes, it will take free legal services to do it, but they seem to be available.
    In the cases where no one shows up
    • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

      make them sit up and take notice: the original retail price of the game - each game summed - and multiplied against the number of class plaintiffs.

      So instead of basing the suit on just one title or title class and ten plaintiffs, name TEN titles and claim ten times ten times the retail.

      You're straight from small claims to supreme court with the stroke of a pen.

  • in my country it is legal to modify software for reasons of interoperability, and if the vendor shuts down the license server that counts.

  • There are several MMOs that no longer have servers at all, ie. being essentially abandoned. Do those worlds not deserve to be preserved for posterity or for game enthusiasts?

    Exempting MMOs across the board from this process seems short-sighted.

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