Abandonware now legal?

Changes in copyright rules let gamers break copy protection on old games--in some circumstances.

Some gamers have been arguing for years that abandonware--older games that are no longer supported by their original copyright holders--should be exempted from copy-protection laws. These retro gamers believe that since the software is no longer being sold or supported by the copyright holders, they are breaking no law by copying and distributing the games.

That point of view may be validated now, as last week Librarian of Congress James H. Billington approved six exemptions to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the US.

Billington ruled that for games for machines which are no longer available, the copy-protection controls may be bypassed for "archival purposes." He also added that games with copy-protection that require "dongles" that were damaged and could not be replaced were also allowed to circumvent the copy-protection systems. Dongles are hardware devices that users have to physically connect to their machine to authenticate a game and allow them to play it--they first came out in the '80s and have since fallen out of popular use.

Other amendments include authorisation to break locks on e-books so that blind people can run them through read-aloud software, and allowing cellphone owners to break software locks on their handsets so they can switch carriers.

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