Joystick.com reports that judges are finally starting to make some rulings that make sense! We all know (if from nowhere else, than from this blog) that the DMCA is evil. It allows all kinds of restrictions to be placed on you, even though you were a good citizen and bought the content legally. For example, the DMCA makes it illegal to rip a DVD to your computer because that would entail breaking the copy protections on the DVD. This may have killed a HUGE surge or video iPod-like devices. Sure, you can buy video from the iTunes store, but why do that if you already own the movie?
Well, judges have made an exception for abandonware. Finally, they have made a ruling that makes sense. You see, abandonware is software for which the company that created the software no longer exists. Not only do they no longer exist, but they did not transfer the rights to any other entity. In other words, if Sony buys Small Company A, Small Company A would no longer exist, but Sony would own the rights to the games; this is not abandonware. But if Small Company A goes out of business without open sourcing their software, it is now abandoned – abandonware. And they do open source their software sometimes – that is the story of how the 3D rendering software Blender came to be.
If the company no longer exists and has abandoned their software, what happens if it becomes the retro hit of the year. Previously, you were on shaky legal ground if you claimed that you could distribute the software. Ethically you would have been right as you wouldn’t be hurting anyone by sharing the software. You are not truly pirating for there is no legitimate way to get the software. Notice that open source software can never be abandonware (which is one of the reasons I love it!) The very gist of open source licenses (eg GPL, BSD, etc) mean that if you like some software you can always redistribute the source code and revive a program that you feel died an untimely death.
The new ruling by the judge makes an exception to the DMCA so that you can break copy protection on abandonware. This means that you can effectively break the copy protection and reverse engineer it. Then you can distribute it, remix it, or add new levels.
I am extremely excited about this event because it means that some common sense is finally being hammered into the DMCA. Some libraries had complained that if they acquired music or books with digital restrictions management (DRM), they were afraid they might not be able to access it if the company went out of business. Now they can! Of course, ideally, they shouldn’t have to hack it – that’s why open source is much better. Don’t make money because you lock people out of stuff – make money because you are a better software producer!