abandonware, due diligence, registration, relicensing

Branko Collin collin at xs4all.nl
Sun Sep 26 11:25:38 EDT 2004


Hi there, 

I am the webmaster of a website about Dutch text adventures 
(<http://come.to/tekstadventure>), and have two goals with that site: 

1) To stimulate the development of new Dutch text adventures

2) To record and bring back Dutch text adventures of the past 
(abandonware)

I have had moderate success with both goals, and considering how 
enthusiastic my visitors generally are I could probably be much more 
successful if I put more time in the web site.

I am also a bit dim-witted at times, :-) which is why I did not 
realize until today how useful Creative Commons licenses could be for 
the authors I am trying to reach.

Thinking things over, I came across a few small stumbling blocks for 
authors of both categories.

Abandonware authors in the past either did not accompagny their games 
with a license, or did. In both cases, if I am to convince them to 
redistribute their games, they need to (re)license those games. There 
are practical problems with this: 

- Licenses and copyright statements were often embedded in the 
compiled game code. Recompiling twenty year old software is often not 
an option. Also, from a 'museum curator' point of view, modifying the 
original code seems to me like putting a sticker "No photographs!" on 
the Nightwatch.

An option would be to wrap the game in, say, a ZIP archive that also 
contains the new license, but rewrapping is easy and can easily 
happen accidentally. How am I as a potential distributor for such 
games to know that it really was the author that attached the 
Creative Commons license?

This brings me to a point that is also relevant regarding authors of 
new games: due diligence and accountability.

I can imagine that if I had a site that distributed freeware, the 
fact that somebody claiming to be the author had uploaded a game, 
saying that the game is freeware, the distributor generally had made 
enough of an effort to make sure he could legally distribute that 
game. A third party might claim later on that they were the real 
author; the distributor would then remove the game. That would seem 
to be due diligence to me. (There are of course exceptions: if John 
Doe uploads a 200 MB image editor called Adobe Photoshop, claiming he 
wrote it and it is freeware, I may be aware that John is fibbing.)

Instrumental in this process is that licenses are hard to write well 
if you are not a copyright lawyer. So authors could be somewhat 
forgiven for not including license, and distributors for not 
demanding one.

However, now we are in the post-CC era, a judge might say: "Mister 
Collin, I noticed you distribute several CC licensed games. Why did 
you not insist that all your authors use such a license? After all, 
acquiring a well written license is easy now."

In other words, where do we stand on due diligence?

I realize this must sound utterly, utterly paranoid. I am not 
speaking for myself, though. Several authors I know realize full well 
that copyright gives them complete control, without any formalities. 
Why would they take the time to get a Creative Commons license? I am 
trying to find some arguments that will convince them.

I have seen authors who wrote something like: "I don't care if my 
game comes with no license. If distributors accept my freeware game 
and distribute it, they risk prosecution. If players play my freeware 
game, they risk me sueing them. Why should I go through all that 
trouble of finding the right license, just to save my distributors 
and audience of that risk? Distributors and users will just have to 
accept the risk."

Of course, I am not going to convince _those_ authors, but I am 
aiming at the ones that evolution has placed slightly closer near the 
human race.

-- 
branko collin
collin at xs4all.nl



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