Three times a year the US Copyright Office reviews applications for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This time, the office has granted 6 new exemptions, the largest number they’ve granted so far. EFF has the details on the new exemptions.
One new exemption I’d like to draw your attention to:
Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and that require the original media or hardware as a condition of access, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of preservation or archival reproduction of published digital works by a library or archive. A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.
This will help the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulation project which writes software so that you can play arcade games on a modern home computer if you have a copy of the arcade game software (for instance, playing the original Pac-Man program on your home computer with perfect sounds, graphics, and with all the interaction of an arcade machine). Unfortunately, MAME is non-free software because its license prohibits commercial distribution. MAME’s copyright holders fear that if it could be legally distributed commercially MAME would threaten the extant arcade market by allowing arcade owners to set up MAME machines which could play many arcade games; a single box that could replace many arcade units. I don’t see that as a threat but an improvement to the arcade market.
Furthermore, the free software movement is in favor of commercial distribution because commercial distributors can help grant software freedom to more people and make money in the process; money that can be put right back into making and distributing more free software. Arcade game copyright holders could distribute old game code under free software licenses rather than let old arcade machines fall into disrepair and vanish from the market.
Here’s hoping MAME’s copyright holders reconsider their license and distribute MAME as free software.