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U.S. government grants DMCA exemption for defunct video games

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and student crusader Kendra Alber have successfully petitioned the U.S. government for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, giving gamers and educators the right to modify and revive single-player video games with non-functional authentication servers.

The U.S. Library of Congress ruled that circumventing software protection in order to access single-player content in a game rendered inoperable by shuttered servers falls under “noninfringing fair use,” and is legally exempt from guidelines set by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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The new ruling essentially allows individuals and organizations to restore single-player content in any legally-owned game after its publisher publicly declares that it is ending official support. The exemption also applies to games with servers that have been shuttered for at least six months without prior publisher notification.

Currently, services like EA’s Origin, Ubisoft’s Uplay, and Blizzard’s Battle.net require players to log in to access specific in-game content that would be permanently locked in the event of a server shutdown. This week’s ruling allows for the preservation of such content via user modification.

The ruling does not extend to multiplayer content, however. While the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued in favor of restoring online play in older games via custom matchmaking tools and user-managed servers, the Library of Congress stated that such actions violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-trafficking provision.

Console games with locked content due to shuttered authentication servers face additional barriers to preservation due to DMCA restrictions. The Library of Congress noted that console jailbreaking and modification is linked to piracy, and refused to grant an exemption for hardware modders. The recent ruling requires authentication server circumvention to be accomplished via software modification exclusively.

Public educational facilities get an exception to this rule, however, giving museums and libraries the exclusive right to modify console hardware to aid in the research of server-deactivated games.