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Dispelling the Myths of Videogame Piracy

Art by psdeluxe

Hi, this is Russell, Englishman in Canada, and I want to take issue with video game piracy.

After having a polite discussion with one of our admin’s earlier this week about what was acceptable when it came to duplicating videogame software, I was encouraged to take to the stormy seas, otherwise known as the world wide web, to search out the legal ins and out of the subject at hand. As I began my search, I had all the laws and loopholes taught to me by my peers at a young age (the PSOne era) embedded firmly in my head and decided to start checking up on a few of these ‘facts’. I will tell you now that what I’ve found is a much tighter bind than I was even expecting, a lot of stuff users and gamers may do are in fact illegal in the eyes of the law.

Following are a few myths I was taught as fact that I am now going to dispel for you guys, in hope that I can inform and educate you and, in the immortal words of Ice-T, please, ‘Don’t hate the player, hate the game’.

I own an original copy of the game so I can do what I like with it!

First what you can do: it is perfectly legal to make a back up of your video game to be played on the console it was originally designed for, this copy must remain yours to keep and can only be passed on to another along with the original copy providing you have the permission of the owner of the copyrights. Mad huh? But true never the less. Owning the game does not allow you dish out numerous copies, back up as a new data format, convert to run on another system or console, and the ‘big’ no-no is putting the back-up on the internet, even if its intended party just wants to back up their own game. Also note that if making a copy of a game means ‘removing’ its copy protection this is also illegal regardless of intent.

I’ll add that it ‘is’ legal to modify the programming of some games (there are numerous PC games that thrive on a modding community) but each of these games have their own laws on what is and isn’t allowed. Just because you’ve given the hero a cape doesn’t make it legal for you to resupply the game, even for free. Be sure to check each games separate legal information on modifying the games content before supplying it to the public.

It’s fine to download as long as it’s gone again before the end of the day!

It is illegal to upload ‘any’ copyright subject matter without express permission, unless you are the creator of it. How many video game companies do you think have given permission to upload their video games? And it is just as illegal to download the subject matter regardless of how long you’re planning on keeping it, whether or not you do or don’t own an original copy of the software.

It’s fine, I don’t use my modded console to play copied games, just international and homebrew stuff!

International gaming? Great. Home brewers? Rock on. Moding your console? Not so good. Short of invalidating your consoles warranty, it is illegal to modify your home console in any such way that would nullify its copyright detection. This means that even if you’re using your console for holy and just means, you are still breaking the law by owning a console that ‘could’ be used to play pirated software. This also goes for peripherals that perform the same task, such as dongles, swap magic disks and the like. If they allow you to play “ripped” software, then they are illegal to use.
Some of you at this point may know that you can’t play backed up videogames on an unmodded console. This is true in most cases, but it is no legal excuse for modding your machine, even though making the backup is legal. Sorry guys.

What? It’s like 20 years old!
Right! But… Wrong, too

Just because a game is old, not on sale anymore, unplayable on modern day consoles, etc., the original owner still owns all the copyrights… unless it is released as free software, freeware or shareware. Therefore, it is illegal to download the game. Thinking that I missed abandonware from the above list? Nuh-uh, abandonware, although dusty, still belongs to the copyright owners and although unavailable commercially and forgotten by time, the reason it becomes abandonware is because it was never released as any of the above so it is ‘presumed’ forgotten. Alas , just because a product is left behind doesn’t make it a legal free for all, sorry.

There is one glimmer of hope. Videogame copyrights will expire but, gird your loins because if they’re not renewed this is a 95 year process. If anybody has any links to any 95 year old games feel free to post them in the comments below.

That only applies to America, its fine here!
Still Wrong!

In the beginning there was the Berne Convention, stating that intellectual property would fall under local publishing and trading laws regardless of where it was created, (a by condition states that legal punishment cannot exceed that of the originating country, but not all countries accept this anyway). This has been moderated over time though to insist that there be a standard of copyright protection across all signing countries of the Berne convention. This in turn is backed up by the TRIPS agreement, which is applied to all members of the United Nations. Yes, this means there will be some copyright laws passed in the states that are not applicable to other countries, but most of the laws in the agreement are standard legal procedure, as far as the copying and the production of copyright data is concerned if it is illegal in America chances are it is illegal everywhere else.

A disk costs a dollar to print, I’m not hurting anyone!
Hecka wrong!

I will admit that perhaps blasting a blank dvd with a pre-produced image only costs us a dollar (if that) but, who sincerely believes that this is all there is to video game production? Back in 2000, the average production and marketing cost of a videogame could reach $4 million. In 2010 it had reached about $20 million, and this doesn’t necessarily include the ‘big’ budget games. Think about what actually goes into a game, not just the graphics design and the modeling, but the music, the voice actors, all the data collection, public research, advertising. And all of this has to be repaid (plus profit for the owners and the next ‘bigger’ budget title) in what is ultimately a few weeks of sales. I am not saying that there aren’t those out there that milk game titles for more than they’re worth, but the same can be said for any industry. Now take into account the smaller Indie game companies. Admittedly their budget is a lot smaller, but for some of these companies not making the sales can mean the end of the company.
Chew this over: the budget for GTA 4 (as far as I know, this is the most expensive game ever made to date) reached a whopping $100 million. This was to pay more than 1000 people for over three years, and covered everything from music production to paying people to study months worth of NY city traffic recordings.

I’m promoting the videogame by making it available to ‘everybody’!
Super wrong and extra ridiculous!

In my research, I read this excuse enough times to warrant its entry in this post – ‘video game emulation brings Nintendo games to PC users who are thus encouraged to go out and buy the full product!’ Really? I mean, seriously!? Nintendo pay millions towards creating a product image and advertising. Even my nana knows what a Nintendo is and what Mario looks like. All that pirated software and emulation is going to promote is pirated software and emulation.

Everybody does it!
Wrong again.

I don’t. Video game piracy has been going on since the Commodore first started producing software on cassette tapes. Every day it becomes easier and there are always home bound programmers ready to break the protection on our latest consoles. All the while, videogame programmers and console manufacturers are finding ways to protect their systems. It’s like technical warfare.

All (bar one) of the reasons above are reasons I was given whilst growing up as to why I should be able to download and play games for free from the internet (or copy them from and for other friends), and I have heard so many other reason about how the information should be free, or that the creators have no right to charge so much for their own product.

At the end of the day piracy is illegal and takes money out of the pockets of those who deserve it, and of those who could do more with it. I’m not a rich man, but I’m happy to pay these companies for a service that brings me hours of enjoyment and, although I doubt any number of facts, ideas or feel good messages are going to change people’s mind, this is just my opinion. Take it for what it is.

It’s good night from me, and it’s good night from him!