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Cracking DRM on games is now legal - in these specific cases

Changes to US copyright law published today will now make it legal to bypass DRM in order to preserve videogames

Paragon Narbash

The United States Congress has ruled that it is now legal to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) software in certain circumstances. In a new copyright ruling published today by the Librarian of Congress, customers will be allowed to work around DRM software under the “right to repair.”

Primarily, that relates to electronics. It will now be legal, for example, to bypass firmware that prevents unapproved vendors from repairing your phone or laptop. I’m told that the movement has found particular backing by US farmers, who need to circumvent firmware on their agricultural equipment to repair it, but it also bodes well for consumers.

It’ll make it easier to get your phone or computer repaired, which is good, but if you’re a fan of older videogames, there’s even more good news. Page 59 of the PDF (via Reddit) published today states that the new rules apply to “Video games in the form of computer programs embodied in physical or downloaded formats that have been lawfully acquired as complete games, when the copyright owner or its authorized representative has ceased to provide access to an external computer server necessary to facilitate an authentication process to enable gameplay.”

To translate all that legal-speak, the ruling states that achivists will be allowed to modify games that have been legally bought or downloaded, whose devs or copyright owners have shut down servers. Essentially, as long as it’ll only be played in a personal, local, or preservative manner (i.e. in a videogame museum) and no-one’s making money from it, games can be rebooted even after they’ve been shut down by their developers.

For hardware in particular, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to make those fixes – you’re now legally allowed to circumvent the firmware, but there’s nothing stopping manufacturers from making that very difficult to do. For software, it bodes much better, so it’ll be interesting to see what communities manage to resurface in the wake of the changes.