Earlier this year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation took action against the Entertainment Software Association with a challenge to change the DMCA rules regarding the preservation of online games. The EFF, looking to defend the rights of gamers, claimed that fan-operated servers should be allowed to support video games once publishers shut the official ones down.
On the other hand, the ESA, representing the corporate interest of all the major publishers, claimed that such an action would encourage piracy and that video gamers would be getting too much for their $60 if they were allowed to play an online game beyond the window that the publishers left open.
Up until now, creating a server to run a shut down game hasn't exactly been legal, but thanks to a surprise victory by the EFF, such actions are now sanctioned under new rules added to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Exemptions have been granted "for video games that require communication with an authentication server to allow gameplay when the requisite server is taken offline."
These new exemptions only extend to games that have been made vastly unplayable. Games that have information and items stored directly on the company's severs cannot be altered or modified though, including many online RPGs. It creates a bit of a hindrance for people who want to actually play online multiplayer games as well.
Speaking with Polygon, Director of Oakland, California's Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment Alex Handy called this "a landmark victory."
"The people who actually reboot these lost servers do so completely on their own time, using their own money, [and] it takes months … so to prevent fans from basically performing a labor of love to bring something that the company that published is no longer willing to monetarily support, for these fans to do so in a non-commercial way is a huge win for them."
The EFF's senior staff attorney, Mitch Stoltz, also praised the ruling, stating "We're very pleased that the Librarian of Congress chose to grant our request to give some legal protection to people who modify abandoned video games to keep them working for both players and museums, libraries and archives." His organization's website also updated with similar praise.
"The exemption will help keep many classic and beloved video games playable by future generations."
Stoltz further commented, stating that the EFF will continue to fight to get rid of the regulations set upon these new rules, believing that a lot of what makes games special could be lost if not everything can be preserved.
"We're disappointed that the Librarian didn't grant our request to people who wanted to extend multiplayer functionality. We think an artificial distinction [between what is and is not acceptable] is going to lead to the loss of of a lot of important video games but we think that the exemption that was granted will be helpful.
"his rule-making process happens every three years so there is always another opportunity. What would really fix the problem and what we would really hope to achieve over the next couple of years is to fix the law so that people can do important legal activities like preserving abandoned video games without having to beg the Librarian of Congress for permission."
Well then, I think I'll go and play me some Phantasy Star Online to celebrate! I'm not so sure if these new rules extend to Japan though… or if that is covered by the regulations or not, but whatever! Score one for gamers!