"Abandonware" and copyright [was Re: WinWorld]

drlegendre . drlegendre at gmail.com
Wed Mar 30 18:44:34 CDT 2016

It cannot be overemphasized, that this is one of those situations wherein
it seriously behooves the enthusiast community to sort this one out on our
own, before some heavy-handed lawyer types - with big dollar signs in their
eyes - sorts all of it for us.. because we all know how that would most
likely go. Hint: Not to _anyone's_ advantage.

Far as I see it, the vast majority of 'abandonware' in actual use, held in
collections or at least offered for download, seems to consist of system
ROMs, games and other entertainment titles from the home-computer / PC boom
of the 80s and 90s.

(As as side-note, it's of interest that arcade and home video game console
ROMs, from roughly the same era, don't seem to fall into the abandonware
class.. at least not so far as I have seen. Is this because the copyright
holders are most often large, visible corporations? Perhaps, but it's also
clear that the rights to a number of canonical abandonware titles, such as
the Lucas Arts "SCUMM" point-and-click series, are likewise held by extant
corporate concerns..)

The seven-year rule is highly optimistic, even cheeky, as is the concept of
an alleged right holder's refusal-to-acknowledge being deemed tacit
permission to distribute the title(s).

Ultimately, though, there must be a reasonable way to deal with all of this
- and in a way that preserves both the rights of copyright holders /
authors - while offering essentially free and open access to this large
catalog of nostalgic and classic titles.

I have a few ideas of my own.. but for now, I'd like to hear other members
thoughts on the matter. Ultimately, it might necessarily involve bringing
the rights holders and/or publishers over on to "our side".

On Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 1:08 PM, Fred Cisin <cisin at xenosoft.com> wrote:

> On Wed, 30 Mar 2016, Mouse wrote:
>> As I understand the term, the rights owner has to be nonexistent or to
>> have proved unidentifiable or uncontactable (re which see below).  The
>> case where the owner clearly exists but demonstrably does not care
>> about the software is, to my mind, a grey area.
> Disunirregardless of whether it SHOULD be that way, most property changes
> ownership, rather than be "un-owned" when the original owner is gone.
> If the "legal owner" explicitly declares that they don't care, then it can
> become public domain.
> But, the legaal owner not responding to inquiries, not still having the
> same address as 30 years ago, and not even necessarily showing up on a
> simple Google search, does NOT take ownership away from them.  When I moved
> my office six blocks down the same street, one outfit declared my company
> to be out of business, and that therefore my work was up for grabs!
> Copyright law does NOT [...].
>> There is no single "copyright law". . . . That said, what you say is true
>> in almost all jursidictions today.
> yes, I was speaking generaally, not the specifics, which do vary a lot.
> Q: To what extent are they making a "good faith" effort to contact
>>> the "prior" (actually current) owners of the intellectual property
>>> rights?
>> Yes.  That.
>> To my mind, this is the most critical missing piece of information.
>> Since their definition does not mention it, I would be inclined to
>> assume they haven't bothered; if so, I consider their abandonware
>> definition to be sophistry, rigged in an attempt to make what they
>> happen to feel like doing sound a bit less unjustified.
> MANY copyright holders really don't care, and would sign off certain
> rights.  When Sellam contacted George Morrow's widow about rights to the
> little red book "Quotations From Chairman Morrow", she gladly signed them
> over.
> If a copyright owner doesn't respond to a demand to relinquish the rights,
> that does NOT constitute release, although many wouldn't bother to object.
> Of course, what relation any of this bears to what _should_ be is a
>> question for philosophy and much disagreement and has - or at least
>> should have! - little-to-nothing with how people handle any software.
> A significant shortening of the term of copyright for items with short
> life, such as computer software would make sense.  However, the laws don't
> seem to be heading in that direction.  "Don't mess with the mouse."

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