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Abandonware

Abandonware is a product, typically software, ignored by its owner and manufacturer, and for which no product support is available. Although such software is usually still under copyright, the owner may not be tracking or enforcing copyright violations. Abandonware is one case of the general concept of orphan works.

Contents

  • Definition 1
    • Types 1.1
  • Implications 2
  • Response to abandonware 3
    • Early abandonware websites 3.1
    • Archives 3.2
    • Community support 3.3
    • Re-releases by digital distribution 3.4
  • Arguments for and against distribution 4
  • Law 5
    • Enforcement of copyright 5.1
    • DMCA 5.2
    • US copyright law 5.3
    • Copyright expiration 5.4
  • Alternatives to software abandoning 6
    • Availability as freeware 6.1
    • Support by source code release 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Definition

Definitions of "abandoned" vary, but in general it is like any item that is abandoned - it is ignored by the owner, and as such product support and possibly copyright enforcement are also "abandoned". It can refer to a product that is no longer available for legal purchase, over the age where the product creator feels an obligation to continue to support it, or where operating systems or hardware platforms have evolved to such a degree that the creator feels continued support cannot be financially justified. In such cases, copyright and support issues are ignored. Software might also be considered abandoned when it can be used only with obsolete technologies, such as pre-Macintosh Apple computers. A difference between abandonware and a discontinued product is that the manufacturer has not issued an official notice of discontinuance; instead, the manufacturer is simply ignoring the product.

Abandonware may be computer software or physical devices which are usually computerised in some fashion, such as personal computer games, productivity applications, utility software, or mobile phones.

Types

The term "abandonware" is broad, and encompasses many types of old software.

Commercial software unsupported but still owned by a viable company
The availability of the software depends on the company's attitude toward the software. In many cases, the company which owns the software rights may not be that which originated it, or may not recognize their ownership. Some companies, such as Borland, make some software available online,[1] in a form of freeware. Others do not make old versions available for free use and do not permit people to copy the software.
Commercial software owned by a company no longer in business
Often, no entity defends the copyright if such software is put onto abandonware websites. An example of this is Digital Research's original PL/I compiler for DOS. The rights to the software cannot be bought by another company; therefore, there is no possibility for a lawsuit.
Shareware whose author still makes it available
Finding historical versions, however, can be difficult since most shareware archives remove past versions with the release of new versions. Authors may or may not make older releases available. Some websites collect and offer for download old versions of shareware, freeware, and (in some cases) commercial applications. In some cases these sites had to remove past versions of software, particularly if the company producing that software still maintains it, or if later software releases introduce Digital Rights Management, whereby old versions could be viewed as DRM circumvention.
Unsupported or unmaintained shareware
Again, finding historical versions may be possible, but very difficult.
Open source and freeware programs that have been abandoned
In some cases, source code remains available, which can prove a historical artifact. One such case is PC-LISP, still found online, which implements the Franz Lisp dialect. The DOS-based PC-LISP still runs well within emulators and on Microsoft Windows.

Implications

If a software product reaches end-of-life and becomes abandonware, users are confronted with several potential problems: missing purchase availability (besides used software) and missing technical support, e.g. compatibility fixes for newer hardware and operating systems. These problems are exacerbated if software is bound ("dongle") to physical media with a limited life-expectancy (floppy discs, optical media etc.) and backups are impossible because of copy protection or copyright law. If the software product is without alternative, the missing replacement availability becomes a challenge for continued software usage.

Also, once a software product has become abandonware for a developer, even historically important software might get lost forever very easily, as several examples have shown.[2][3][4][5] One of many examples is the closure of Atari in Sunnyvale in 1996, when the original source code of several milestones of video game history (like Asteroids or Centipede) was thrown out as trash.[6][7]

Also, the missing availability of software and the associated source code can be a hindrance for software archeology and research.[8]

Response to abandonware

Early abandonware websites

As response to the missing availability of abandonware, people have distributed old software since shortly after the beginning of Abandonia and Home of the Underdogs.

Archives

Several websites archive abandonware for download, including old versions of applications which are difficult to find by any other means. Much of this software fits the definition of "software that is no longer current, but is still of interest", but the line separating the use and distribution of abandonware from copyright infringement is blurry, and the term abandonware could be used to distribute software without proper notification of the owner.

The Internet Archive has created an archive of what it describes as "vintage software", as a way to preserve them.[10] The project advocated for an exemption from the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act to permit them to bypass copy protection, which was approved in 2003 for a period of 3 years.[11] The exemption was renewed in 2006, and as of 27 October 2009, has been indefinitely extended pending further rulemakings.[12] The Archive does not offer this software for download, as the exemption is solely "for the purpose of preservation or archival reproduction of published digital works by a library or archive."[13] Nevertheless, in 2013 the Internet Archive began to provide antique games as browser-playable emulation via MESS, for instance the Atari 2600 game E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[14]

Also the Library of Congress began with the long-time preservation of video games with the Game canon list around 2006.[15] In September 2012 the collection had nearly 3,000 games from many platforms and also around 1,500 strategy guides.[16] For instance, the source code of the unreleased PlayStation Portable game Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was discovered in August 2014 to be preserved at the Library of Congress.[17][18][19]

In 2010 Computer History Museum began with the preservation of source code of important software, beginning with Apple's MacPaint 1.3.[20][21] In 2012 the APL programming language followed.[22] Adobe Systems, Inc. donated the Photoshop 1.0.1 source code to the collection in February 2013.[23][24] The source code is made available to the public under an own non-commercial license. On March 25, 2014, Microsoft followed with the donation of MS-DOS variants as well as Word for Windows 1.1a under their own license.[25][26]

Since around 2009 the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG) has taken a five-pronged approach to video game preservation: original software and hardware, marketing materials and publications, production records, play capture, and finally the source code.[27] In December 2013 the ICHEG received a donation of several SSI video games, for instance Computer Bismarck, including the source code for preservation.[28][29] In 2014 a collection of Brøderbund games[30] and a "virtually complete" Atari arcade machine source code and asset collection was added.[31]

There are also some cases in which the source code of games was given to a fan community for long-time preservation, e.g. several titles of the Wing Commander video game series.[32][33][34]

Community support

In response to the missing software support, sometimes the software's

  • Kauffman, Jeremiah (April 9, 2009). "Abandonwarez: the pros outweigh the cons". Archived from the original on March 29, 2014. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
  • Saltzman, Marc (2002). "Flashbacks For Free: The Skinny On Abandonware".  
  • Andersen, John (January 27, 2011). "Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis".  
  • Bell, John (October 2009). "Opening the Source of Art". Technology Innovation Management Review. Archived from the original on March 30, 2014. Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
Articles

External links

  1. ^ a b "CDN » Museum". Archived from the original on October 20, 2007. Retrieved December 29, 2012. 
  2. ^ Andersen, John (January 27, 2011). "Where Games Go To Sleep: The Game Preservation Crisis, Part 1".  
  3. ^ "Bubble Bobble". Arcade History. September 11, 2012. Archived from the original on September 30, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2013. In 1996, Taito announced that they lost the original source code program to Bubble Bobble following a reorganization - when it came to the recent ports and sequels, they had to work from program disassembly, playing the game and (mainly) the various home computer ports. 
  4. ^ Barenblat, Adam (July 25, 2008). "Sega Can't Find The Source Code For Your Favorite Old School Arcade Games". Kotaku. Archived from the original on December 20, 2013. Retrieved December 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ Silent Hill HD was made from incomplete code on Destructoid Archived October 16, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Parrish, Kevin (July 7, 2009). "Atari 7800 Source Code Rescued - Atari released the source code for the 7800 console and games". tomsguide.com. Archived from the original on April 22, 2014. Retrieved January 9, 2012. 
  7. ^ "7800 Games & Development". atari-museum.com. 2009. Retrieved January 9, 2012. These games were rescued from Atari ST format diskettes that were thrown out behind 1196 Borregas when Atari closed up in 1996. The Atari Museum rescued these important treasures and recovered them from the diskettes. 
  8. ^ Kuchera, Ben (March 17, 2014). "Finding treasures in the code: Why the source code of classic games matters, even to non-coders". polygon.com. Archived from the original on March 20, 2014. Retrieved March 20, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b "The Abandonware Ring FAQ". The Official Abandonware Ring. 2006. Archived from the original on March 28, 2007. Retrieved March 8, 2007. 
  10. ^ "The Internet Archive Classic Software Preservation Project".  
  11. ^ "Internet Archive Gets DMCA Exemption To Help Archive Vintage Software". Archived from the original on October 20, 2007. Retrieved October 21, 2007. 
  12. ^  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Robertson, Adi (October 25, 2013). "The Internet Archive puts Atari games and obsolete software directly in your browser".  
  15. ^ Chaplin, Heather (March 12, 2007). "Is That Just Some Game? No, It’s a Cultural Artifact".  
  16. ^ Owens, Trevor (September 26, 2012). "Yes, The Library of Congress Has Video Games: An Interview with David Gibson". blogs.loc.gov. Archived from the original on March 31, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2013. 
  17. ^ Trevor Owens, August 6, 2014, Duke’s Legacy: Video Game Source Disc Preservation at the Library of Congress, Library of Congress
  18. ^ Library of Congress discovers unreleased Duke Nukem game on eurogamer.net
  19. ^ Starr, Michelle (2014-08-06). "Unreleased Duke Nukem source code found at Library of Congress". cnet.com. Retrieved 2014-08-12. A cache of recently acquired video games at the Library of Congress turned up a true find: the source code for unreleased PSP game Duke Nukem: Critical Mass. 
  20. ^ "MacPaint and QuickDraw Source Code". Computer History Museum. July 20, 2010. 
  21. ^ Hesseldahl, Erik (2010-07-20). "Apple Donates MacPaint Source Code To Computer History Museum". businessweek.com. Archived from the original on 2012-02-09. 
  22. ^ Shustek, Len (2012-10-10). "The APL Programming Language Source Code". computerhistory.org. Retrieved 2013-10-15. 
  23. ^ Bishop, Bryan (February 14, 2013). "Adobe releases original Photoshop source code for nostalgic developers". theverge.com. Archived from the original on January 17, 2014. Retrieved October 15, 2013. 
  24. ^ Adobe Photoshop Source Code Archived May 7, 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  25. ^ Shustek, Len (2014-03-24). "Microsoft Word for Windows Version 1.1a Source Code". Retrieved 2014-03-29. 
  26. ^ Levin, Roy (2014-03-25). "Microsoft makes source code for MS-DOS and Word for Windows available to public". Official Microsoft Blog. Retrieved 2014-03-29.  (NB. While the author and publishers claim the package would include MS-DOS 1.1 and 2.0, it actually contains SCP MS-DOS 1.25 and a mixture of files from Altos MS-DOS 2.11 and TeleVideo PC DOS 2.11.)
  27. ^ Dyson, Jon-Paul C. (2010-10-13). "ICHEG’s Approach to Collecting and Preserving Video Games". museumofplay.org. Retrieved 2014-08-22. 
  28. ^ Nutt, Christian (December 16, 2013). "Strategic Simulations, Inc. founder donates company collection to ICHEG".  
  29. ^ Dyson, Jon-Paul C. (December 16, 2013). "The Strategic Simulations, Inc. Collection".  
  30. ^ Tach, Dave (2014-03-04). "Broderbund founder donates collection including Myst, Prince of Persia to Museum of Play". polygon.com. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  31. ^ Good, Owen S. (2014-04-22). "Museum acquires 'virtually complete' source code from Atari's arcade heyday". polygon.com. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  32. ^ "BIG NEWS: Wing Commander I Source Code Archived!". wcnews.com. August 26, 2011. Archived from the original on November 9, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2013. Thanks to an extremely kind donation from an anonymous former EA/Origin developer, the source code to the PC version of Wing Commander I is now preserved in our offline archive! Because of our agreement with Electronic Arts, we're not allowed to post recovered source code for download--but rest easy knowing that the C files that started it all are being kept safe for future reference. Our offline archive contains material that has been preserved but which can't be posted, including other source code and budget data from several of the games. 
  33. ^ "Wing Commander III - The Source Code". wcnews.com. September 13, 2011. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2013. As we celebrate Wing Commander III's first widespread retail availability since the late 1990s, we would like to mention for anyone that we have the game's source code in our offline archive. We know it's frustrating for fans, who could do amazing things with this, to read these updates... but it's also in everyone's best interests to remind EA that we have the raw material from which they could port Wing Commander III to a modern computer or console. Just let us know! 
  34. ^ "Wing Commander IV: Source Code". wcnews.com. April 3, 2012. Archived from the original on November 9, 2013. Retrieved January 14, 2013. As with Wing Commander I and Wing Commander III, we are pleased to announced that an extremely kind former EA/Origin employee has provided a copy of the Wing Commander IV source code for our preservation efforts! We can't offer it for download at this time, but it is now preserved for future use. 
  35. ^ Voyager (April 8, 2007). "Ultima The Reconstruction - Fanpatches". reconstruction.voyd.net. Archived from the original on May 11, 2013. Retrieved May 28, 2011. Fan patches are those packages released by an Ultima fan to either repair bugs in a game that were never fixed by Origin, solve platform compatibility issues, or enhance the gaming experience. 
  36. ^ Sines, Shawn (January 8, 2008). "Fallout 2 Restoration Project". gamefront.com. Archived from the original on October 13, 2013. Retrieved April 3, 2011. 
  37. ^ Meer, Alec (July 15, 2011). "Undying: Vampire Bloodlines Patched Anew".  
  38. ^ Dirscherl, Hans-Christian (November 29, 2005). "Nicht tot zu kriegen: Win 98 Service Pack 2.1" (in German).  
  39. ^ GPGNet Services Update 2 (GPGnet has been shutdown) on gaspowered.com
  40. ^ Hafer, T.J. (2012-11-19). "Community-made Forged Alliance Forever keeps Supreme Commander multiplayer alive".  
  41. ^ "Forged Alliance Forever official site". Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  42. ^ Editorial staff (June 2013). "Forging On, Supreme Commander has returned a changed game preview".  
  43. ^ "PC gamer pod cast 87". Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  44. ^ Walker, John (November 21, 2007). "RPS Exclusive: Gabe Newell Interview".  
  45. ^ Caron, Frank (September 9, 2008). "First look: GOG revives classic PC games for download age". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on September 12, 2011. Retrieved December 27, 2012. [...] [Good Old Games] focuses on bringing old, time-tested games into the downloadable era with low prices and no DRM. 
  46. ^  
  47. ^ Conquest: Frontier Wars on GOG on robertsspaceindustries.com
  48. ^ Hollaar, Lee (2002). "Copyright of Computer Programs". Archived from the original on July 11, 2008. Retrieved August 7, 2008. 
  49. ^ Miller, Ross. "US Copyright Office grants abandonware rights". Archived from the original on January 28, 2008. Retrieved January 2, 2008. 
  50. ^ Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works Archived November 23, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  51. ^ Boyes, Emma (November 27, 2006). "Abandonware now legal? - Changes in copyright rules let gamers break copy protection on old games--in some circumstances.".  
  52. ^ King, Brad (January 19, 2002). "Abandonware: Dead Games Live On".  
  53. ^ Lawson, Cliff (August 31, 1999). "Amstrad ROM permissions". comp.sys.amstrad.8bit. Retrieved January 19, 2013. 1) What exactly do you have to do to use Sinclair ROMs in an emulator, such as acknowledgements etc?" Amstrad are happy for emulator writers to include images of our copyrighted code as long as the (c)opyright messages are not altered and we appreciate it if the program/manual includes a note to the effect that "Amstrad have kindly given their permission for the redistribution of their copyrighted material but retain that copyright". 
  54. ^ "Vectrex System History The Mini Arcade". Vectrex Museum. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  55. ^ Savetz, Kevin (September 17, 2001). "Can "Abandonware" Revive Forgotten Programs?". byte.com. Archived from the original on February 13, 2012. Retrieved March 8, 2007. 
  56. ^ Largent, Andy (October 8, 2003). "Homeworld Source Code Released". www.insidemacgames.com. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved November 24, 2012. With the release of Homeworld 2 for the PC, Relic Entertainment has decided to give back to their impressive fan community by releasing the source code to the original Homeworld. 
  57. ^ a b Colayco, Bob (February 6, 2004). "Microsoft pledges Allegiance to its fanbase".  
  58. ^ Reed, Michael (February 7, 2008). "I'm Glad That IBM Declined to Release the OS/2 Source". OSNews LLC. Archived from the original on February 21, 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2012. 
  59. ^ "NETSCAPE ANNOUNCES PLANS TO MAKE NEXT-GENERATION COMMUNICATOR SOURCE CODE AVAILABLE FREE ON THE NET".  
  60. ^ "MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 1 /PRNewswire/ -- Netscape Communications and open source developers are celebrating the first anniversary, March 31, 1999, of the release of Netscape's browser source code to mozilla.org".  
  61. ^ Proffitt, Brian (October 13, 2000). "StarOffice Code Released in Largest Open Source Project". linuxtoday.com. Archived from the original on October 16, 2013. Retrieved January 10, 2013. Sun's joint effort with CollabNet kicked into high gear on the OpenOffice Web site at 5 a.m. PST this morning with the release of much of the source code for the upcoming 6.0 version of StarOffice. According to Sun, this release of 9 million lines of code under GPL is the beginning of the largest open source software project ever. 
  62. ^ Wen, Howard (June 10, 2004). "Keeping the Myths Alive". linuxdevcenter.com. Archived from the original on April 6, 2013. Retrieved December 22, 2012. [...]fans of the Myth trilogy have taken this idea a step further: they have official access to the source code for the Myth games. Organized under the name MythDevelopers, this all-volunteer group of programmers, artists, and other talented people devote their time to improving and supporting further development of the Myth game series. 
  63. ^ Bell, John (October 1, 2009). "Opening the Source of Art". Technology Innovation Management Review. Archived from the original on March 30, 2014. Retrieved December 30, 2012. [...]that no further patches to the title would be forthcoming. The community was predictably upset. Instead of giving up on the game, users decided that if Activision wasn't going to fix the bugs, they would. They wanted to save the game by getting Activision to open the source so it could be kept alive beyond the point where Activision lost interest. With some help from members of the development team that were active on fan forums, they were eventually able to convince Activision to release Call to Power II's source code in October of 2003. 

References

See also

There are also many examples in the video game domain: Revolution Software released their game Beneath a Steel Sky as freeware and gave the engine's source code to the authors of ScummVM to add support for the game. Other examples are Myth II,[62] Call to Power II[63] and Microsoft's Allegiance[57] which were released to allow the community to continue the support.

. Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice and is in continued development as [61] Another important example for open sourced general software is the

Nevertheless, several notable examples of successfully opened commercial software exist, for instance, the web browser Netscape Communicator, which was released by Netscape Communications on March 31, 1998.[59] The development was continued under the umbrella of the Mozilla Foundation and Netscape Communicator became the basis of several browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox.[60]

The chilling effect of drawing a possible lawsuit can discourage release of source code. Efforts to persuade IBM to release OS/2 as open source software were ignored[58] since some of the code was co-developed by Microsoft.

I honestly think this [source code release] should be standard procedure for companies that decide not to continue to support a code base.
—Kevin Klemmick, interviewed by Bertolone, Giorgio (2011-03-12). "Interview with Kevin Klemmick - Lead Software Engineer for Falcon 4.0". Cleared-To-Engage. Archived from the original on 2011-03-18. Retrieved 2014-08-31. 
's lead designer Kevin Klemmick argued in 2011 that availability of the source code of his software for the community was a good thing: Falcon 4.0 (but not the actual game content, such as levels or textures). Also free software license of some older titles under a game engines are early proponents in this practice, releasing the source code for the 3D Realms and Id Software

The problem of missing technical support for a software can be most effectively solved when the source code becomes available. Therefore several companies decided to release the source code specifically to allow the user communities to provide further technical software support (bug fixes, compatibility adaptions etc.) themselves,[56][57] e.g. by community patches or source ports to new computing platforms.

Support by source code release

There are groups that lobby companies to release their software as freeware. These efforts have met with mixed results. One example is the library of educational titles released by MECC. MECC was sold to Brøderbund, which was sold to The Learning Company. When TLC was contacted about releasing classic MECC titles as freeware, the documentation proving that TLC held the rights to these titles could not be located, and therefore the rights for these titles are "in limbo" and may never be legally released.[55]

Amstrad is an example which supports emulation and free distribution of CPC and ZX Spectrum hardware ROMs and software.[53] Borland is another example for a company who released "antique software" as freeware.[1] Smith Engineering permits not-for-profit reproduction and distribution of Vectrex games and documentation.[54]

Sometimes user-communities convince companies to voluntarily relinquish copyright on software, putting it into the public domain, or re-license it as free software or as freeware. Transfer of public domain or freely licensed software is perfectly legal, distinguishing it from abandonware which still has full copyright restrictions.

Availability as freeware

There are alternatives for companies with a software product which faces the end-of-life instead of abandoning the software in an unsupported state.

Alternatives to software abandoning

However, because of the length of copyright enforcement in most countries, it is likely that by the time a piece of software defaults to public domain, it will have long become obsolete, irrelevant, or incompatible with any existing hardware. Additionally, due to the relatively short commercial, as well as physical, lifespans of most digital media, it is entirely possible that by the time the copyright expires for a piece of software, it will no longer exist in any form. However, since the largest risk in dealing with abandonware is that of distribution, this may be mitigated somewhat by private users (or organizations such as the Internet Archive) making private copies of such software, which would then be legally redistributable at the time of copyright expiry.

Once the copyright on a piece of software has expired, it automatically falls into public domain. Such software can be legally distributed without restrictions. However, due to the length of copyright terms in most countries, this has yet to happen for most software. All countries that observe the Berne Convention enforce copyright ownership for at least 50 years after publication or the author's death. However, individual countries may choose to enforce copyrights for longer periods. In the United States, copyright durations are determined based on authorship. For most published works, the duration is 70 years after the author's death. However, for anonymous works, works published under a pseudonym or works made for hire, the duration is 120 years after publication. In France, copyright durations are 70 years after the relevant date (date of author's death or publication) for either class.

Copyright expiration

Hosting and distributing copyrighted software without permission is illegal. Copyright holders, sometimes through the Entertainment Software Association, send cease and desist letters, and some sites have shut down or removed infringing software as a result. However, most of the Association's efforts are devoted to new games, due to those titles possessing the greatest value.[52]

Currently, US copyright law does not recognize the term or concept of "abandonware" while the general concept "orphan works" is recognized (see Orphan works in the United States). There is a long held concept of abandonment in trademark law as a direct result of the infinite term of trademark protection. Currently, a copyright can be released into the public domain if the owner clearly does so in writing; however this formal process is not considered abandoning, but rather releasing. Those who do not own a copyright cannot merely claim the copyright abandoned and start using protected works without permission of the copyright holder, who could then seek legal remedy.

US copyright law

In November 2006 the Library of Congress approved an exemption to the DMCA that permits the cracking of copy protection on software no longer being sold or supported by its copyright holder so that they can be archived and preserved without fear of retribution.[50][51]

"3. Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and which require the original media or hardware as a condition of access. ...The register has concluded that to the extent that libraries and archives wish to make preservation copies of published software and videogames that were distributed in formats that are (either because the physical medium on which they were distributed is no longer in use or because the use of an obsolete operating system is required), such activity is a noninfringing use covered by section 108(c) of the Copyright Act."
—Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies (PDF)
software in case of preservation. reverse engineering (DMCA) can be a problem for the preservation of old software as it prohibits required techniques. In October 2003, the US Congress passed 4 clauses to the DMCA which allow for Digital Millennium Copyright ActThe

DMCA

Often the availability of abandonware on the Internet is related to the willingness of copyright holders to defend their copyrights. For example, unencumbered games for Colecovision are markedly easier to find on the Internet than unencumbered games for Mattel Intellivision in large part because there is still a company that sells Intellivision games while no such company exists for the Colecovision.

Even if the copyright is not defended, copying of such software is still unlawful in most jurisdictions when a copyright is still in effect. Abandonware changes hands on the assumption that the resources required to enforce copyrights outweigh benefits a copyright holder might realize from selling software licenses. Additionally, abandonware proponents argue that distributing software for which there is no one to defend the copyright is morally acceptable, even where unsupported by current law. Companies that have gone out of business without transferring their copyrights are an example of this; many hardware and software companies that developed older systems are long since out of business and precise documentation of the copyrights may not be readily available.

Old copyrights are usually left undefended. This can be due to intentional non-enforcement by owners due to software age or obsolescence, but sometimes results from a corporate copyright holder going out of business without explicitly transferring ownership, leaving no one aware of the right to defend the copyright.

Enforcement of copyright

Rarely has any abandonware case gone to court. But it is still unlawful to distribute copies of old copyrighted software and games, with or without compensation, in any Berne Convention signatory country.[49]

In most cases, software classed as abandonware is not in the public domain, as it has never had its original copyright officially revoked and some company or individual may still own rights. While sharing of such software is usually considered copyright infringement, in practice copyright holders rarely enforce their abandonware copyrights for a number of reasons - chiefly among which the software is technologically obsolete and therefore has no commercial value, therefore rendering copyright enforcement a pointless enterprise. By default, this may allow the product to de facto lapse into the public domain to such an extent that enforcement becomes impractical.

Law

If I owned the copyright on Total Annihilation, I would probably allow it to be shared for free by now (four years after it was originally released)
 
Is it piracy? Yeah, sure. But so what? Most of the game makers aren't living off the revenue from those old games anymore. Most of the creative teams behind all those games have long since left the companies that published them, so there's no way the people who deserve to are still making royalties off them. So go ahead--steal this game! Spread the love!
 
[...] personally, I think that sites that support these old games are a good thing for both consumers and copyright owners. If the options are (a) having a game be lost forever and (b) having it available on one of these sites, I'd want it to be available. That being said, I believe a game is 'abandoned' only long after it is out of print. And just because a book is out of print does not give me rights to print some for my friends.
 

Some game developers showed sympathy for abandonware websites as they preserve their classical game titles.

Those who oppose these practices argue that distribution denies the copyright holder potential sales, in the form of re-released titles, official emulation, and so on. Likewise, they argue that if people can acquire an old version of a program for free, they may be less likely to purchase a newer version if the old version meets their needs.

Abandonware advocates also frequently cite historical preservation as a reason for trading abandoned software.[9] Older computer media are fragile and prone to rapid deterioration, necessitating transfer of these materials to more modern, stable media and generation of many copies to ensure the software will not simply disappear. Users of still-functional older computer systems argue for the need of abandonware because re-release of software by copyright holders will most likely target modern systems or incompatible media instead, preventing legal purchase of compatible software.

Proponents of abandonware preservation argue that it is more ethical to make copies of such software than new software that still sells. Those ignorant of copyright law have incorrectly taken this to mean that abandonware is legal to distribute, although no software written since 1964 is old enough for copyright to have expired in the US.[48] Even in cases where the original company no longer exists, the rights usually belong to someone else, though no one may be able to trace actual ownership, including the owners themselves.

Arguments for and against distribution

With the new possibility of digital distribution arising in mid-2000, the commercial distribution for many old titles became feasible again as deployment and storage costs dropped significantly.[44] A digital distributor specialized in bringing old games out of abandonware is GOG.com (formerly called Good Old Games) who started in 2008 to search for copyright holders of classic games to release them legally and DRM-free again.[45] For instance, on December 9, 2013 the real-time strategy video game Conquest: Frontier Wars was, after ten years of non-availability, re-released by gog.com, also including the source code.[46][47]

Re-releases by digital distribution

[43][42][41].client the game community itself took over with a self-developed multiplayer server and [40][39]

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