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While playing the original versions of classic games on aging original hardware can sometimes be difficult, it’s at least typically possible. That’s not the case for many online games, which are functionally inoperable once the developer or publisher decides to shut down the official servers that provide the only way for players to communicate with each other. Unofficial hobbyist projects that try to create new servers for these abandoned games could run afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its ban on “the circumvention of access control technologies.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation wants to change that. In an official exemption request (PDF) filed with the Library of Congress this week, the nonprofit advocacy group asks that users be allowed to modify access controls and online authentication checks in legally obtained games “when the [game] servers authorized by the developer are permanently shut down.” In this way, those users can access third-party servers in order to regain “core functionality” that is no longer available through the defunct official servers.
The EFF gives the specific example of Nintendo’s Mario Kart games, which used a proprietary protocol to communicate with Nintendo’s servers before Nintendo shut those servers down for the Wii and DS. Reverse-engineering that protocol could be considered “circumvention” in the DMCA’s current broad prohibitions, as could modifying the game’s code to allow for connection to new, non-Nintendo servers.
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