Intellectual Property laws are the bane of many different areas. Why can a company say this? "We may not have produced this product for 20 years, but it is still ours. So what if we have no remaining copies of it? So what if we completely forgot its existance until you tried to make it available again? It is ours based on the fact that someone who worked for us produced it at one time and we slapped a copyright on it."

Now don't get me wrong. If a product is still available for a consumer to purchase it from the producing company, or one that has bought the rights to that product, whether it be music, software, or anything else, it SHOULD NOT be pirated. That is bad. You should not steal stuff that can be legally obtained.

The situation changes though if a company has decided not to support or produce a product, that product by law was supposed to become the property of the public domain. But new intellectual property laws have changed this.

Now when some of us speak of intellectual property, we are talking about the software industry. Here is where the main part of the battle takes place. When a company stops producing a game it has generally run its life cycle completely. Those who are left are fans of the game. Now years later when the fans' games have failed, they will want to replace them. The company no longer sells these products, it would be way too expensive for them to reproduce almost all the games people want (there are some exceptions, like the old genre creating games). In console gaming it would require the rengineering of the game to work on newer consoles, and in PC gaming it would require the fixing of backwards compatibility issues. So the companies do not do this. So the fans cannot replace their games.

Now I ask you. If you cannot buy the game and everyone followed the law and obeyed intellectual property laws, what would happen to the games and other programs? Would they be around in 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? In almost all cases, no. These companies kept one original master disk. In many cases these master disks no longer operate. The media simply was not made to withstand even 15 years time. So what happens to a portion of history? It dissapears. So I ask you, do intellectual property laws, when taken too far help or hinder the industry?

We have not even looked into the thoughts of the actual programmers themselves. I challenge you to take a look at the home of the underdogs. The webmaster there reported some time ago, that in a large majority, game developers wanted their old creations available to the general public. The companies that these developers worker for no longer sold the titles, and these people just wanted there old work accessable. The problem is, the people who develop the games do not own them, they do not see most of the rewards from them. The companies the developers worked for them and thus the companies own the games, and the companies say it is illegal......

Disclaimer:The following is written as pure speculation, and providing a counter-argument to the above points. These are not necessarily my personal views.

Anyways, the argument above by Domin against Intellectual Property is usually referred to as the Abandonware argument. Simply put, if it's all been abandonned by the company, it should be public domain.

However, the tricky part becomes in defining what abandonned actually means. Is it 10 years after release? 20? 50? Is it whenever they stop producing copies? What about sequels/spin-offs to a franchise/brand? And remixes/redone games? There are endless possibilities of variants that could or could not be done.

One critical issue is the lifespan of the storage used to preserve these old games. This could vary from company to company, depending on their good/bad system. Most anyone would agree (except for the people only in it for the money), that in an ideal world, if a game is never going to be made again, and the only copy is starting to deteriorate, then it should be made public to be saved. However, what if a company trashes their copies the day they ship? There is no law requiring them to keep the thing.

Another issue is the way games work. Just as history repeats, styles of games go out of fashion and into fashion again. This is especially true with the propogation of older technology into smaller forms. A good example of this is the Nintendo e-Reader. Some of these games have been 'abandonned' for over 15 years, but now Nintendo is trying to make an extra buck with them.

I'm not pretending to have some ultimate answer to this. IP is probably one of the most difficult laws to write, so that it is fair for everyone. Just because something currently isn't in prodcution, does that mean a company can no longer make money off of it?

I have been hearing some theories recently how the Music and Movie industries will eventually become like the Book industry, with the production process becoming cheap enough for more competition, in addition to better book-keeping processes in libraries. Maybe we will have a 'Games' section in the libraries of the future. Who really knows?

For further information, please see more general topics such as government-granted monopoly.

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