Dead MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies or City of Heroes might have a second chance at life thanks to recent changes to US copyright rules. A new decision from the US Copyright Office now allows preservationists to legally run recreations of classic online games, and offers some DRM exemptions to help them get there – though this doesn’t mean your favourite custom server project is suddenly legal.
“These rules allow for a museum to bring a dead MMO back online if they have the original source code legally obtained from the IP owners,” Alex Handy, founder of the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment tells me via email. “Once that demand is met, we can open the games for players on the Internet. This is actually more than we asked for.”
The new rules come as part of a regular process of revision for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – the DMCA. Section 1201 is the relevant portion for game preservation – and art studies in general – since it covers anti-circumvention measures, including DRM. A 1201 exemption process takes place every few years that allows historians – like Handy – to push for new ways to preserve games.
A key point standing in the way of these efforts is that server code must be acquired from the IP holders, but Handy says “this law removes any barriers in the form of DRM or third party software that might get in the way.” He adds that this is “important first step since most ancient MMOs and online games were played through services like AOL.”
On Twitter, the MADE’s quest to restore the classics has been made public.
Hey Twitter fans: please go track down people who could legally get us Star Wars Galaxy's server code, and City of Heroes server code. If they agree to hand over the server code, we can bring those games back online legally.
— Video Game Museum! (@TheMADE) October 26, 2018
However, all these new rules apply specifically to museums and other such historical efforts. “These decisions don’t help amatuer preservation, sadly,” Handy says. But that is something preservationists will continue to push for moving into the next 1201 exemption process. “This is a long process that moves in steps not leaps.”