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Making videogame history: videogame preservation and copyright law

Yin Harn Lee

Keywords: abandonware; cultural heritage; emulation; exhaustion; game preservation; orphan works; technological protection measures

The continued accessibility of older videogames is threatened by the obsolescence of the hardware and software platforms on which they operate and the degradation of the physical media on which they are stored. This has made videogame preservation a topic of increasing concern to cultural heritage institutions. However, established preservation techniques, such as migration and emulation, raise numerous issues under copyright law, as they implicate rightholders' exclusive rights as well as protections against the circumvention of TPMs. This is exacerbated by the difficulty of locating the rightholders for a given videogame. Notwithstanding this, cultural heritage institutions may still take advantage of some flexibilities within the current copyright framework, in particular the exceptions relating to reverse engineering, decompilation, cultural preservation and orphan works, in order to begin the work of videogame preservation. In the longer term, it may be necessary for the sector to collaborate more closely with the videogame industry and to lobby for legislative reform.

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