Internet Archive Lawsuit Sparks Fears About Game History Losses

As big publishing continues to move ahead in its lawsuit against the Internet Archive, some worry that this could cause significant damage to gaming history.

Big US publishers are trying to sue the Internet Archive for copyright infringement. At issue is the emergency library program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Anti-innovation voices falsely claim that the Internet Archive was simply posting eBooks online for anyone to download. The reality is that the Internet Archive offered a book lending program and lifted some of the previous restrictions on an emergency basis. Of course, when it comes to copyright infringement cases, facts rarely mean anything to big corporations in the first place.

Of course, the Internet Archive is about much more than just a book lending program. It also hosts the WayBackMachine which archives historic pages of the Internet. This includes snapshots of the history of Freezenet which we are obviously not only thrilled about, but also give our wholehearted support for.

In addition, the Internet Archive also hosts historic digital files. This includes old games that are being preserved for their respective historic value. Now with the Internet Archive being threatened with litigation, some fear that the Internet Archive could be taken down completely. As a consequence, the library offered for the history of gaming could be lost with it. From COGConnected:

The internet archive has a collection of obsolete software that hangs in the balance with this lawsuit. The litigants regard major book publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Wiley and Penguin Random House and their works in the National Emergency Library. Many of the classic games cataloged through the Internet Archive are still available on Steam, but many may be lost to time if this lawsuit sets a new precedent.

The Internet Archive houses around 15,000 PC games and more than 6,900 MS-DOS games, including browser-based emulators for both landmark games and obscure indie projects, all of which could be impacted by this lawsuit. Some games that are part of the Internet Archive include the original Doom, Halo, Quake, Battlefield, Sim City, Command & Conquer to name just a few. Many of these games don’t exist anywhere else, and were cataloged and preserved with the help of donors, sponsors, hobbyists and the IA’s own staff. This collection of games could be impacted by the lawsuit, despite the fact that it was initially sparked by an initiative that was intended to get more people reading.

The thing is, the lawsuit is intended to stop the Internet Archive from lending books. We haven’t seen evidence that this is about the existence of the site. Additionally, the Internet Archive has been around for a significant period of time in Internet History. Along the way, they also obtained some great connections along the way. What is being described here is a worse case scenario and it would be surprising if this lawsuit resulted in the shut down of the Internet Archive.

Even under the extreme scenario, chances are, contingency measures would be put in place to preserve as much material as possible. Other organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation would at least assist in seeing how much of this library could be preserved if it got to the point where big publishing actually managed to burn down the open library. As is evidenced by many people (including ourselves), the Internet Archive has a lot of support to begin with, so there are going to be those who would support any efforts to rebuild whatever they can.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are plenty of abandonware sites out there that also preserve games. They may have entries that are less than perfectly legal, however, it shows that the Internet Archive isn’t the only game in town when it comes to preserving gaming history. It would be a very unfortunate thing that piracy would end up being the sole proprietor for gaming history, but piracy has done that in the past as well even if it sometimes risks patrons being exposed to malware in the process.

Still, the article does raise a perfectly valid point that there are large collections of history that has been collected by the archive. How much of that history would get lost if the lawsuit becomes particularly successful remains unclear. Still, many observers are hoping that Big Publishing will finally come to their senses and drop the lawsuit. As we found out recently, they haven’t done so yet.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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