Sunday, January 30, 2022

Abandonware: An Example of Why Copyright Law Should Be Revised

Over the last week I fell down a nostalgia rabbit hole.

I'm not really sure what prompted it.  I think maybe it was a post like this.

The joke is that the last name "Cooper" is the occupation of making barrels.

This piece of random, possibly useless historical trivia is something I learned from a game called "Carmen San Diego's Great Chase Through Time," and I haven't thought about that game in about 20 years, but I've retained an absolute ton of knowledge from it.  Looking back, I can say with a degree of confidence that it was my favorite "learning game" of my childhood.  A simple click-and-point adventure with a linear plotline, it was something of an interactive TV show that takes the user on a journey through history.

I wanted to play it but discovered, to my disappointment, it's not something easily found.  In fact, it's what's called "abandonware," a term for software that has been functionally given up by the creator and no longer has any type of official support.  Abandonware is similar to the poignant concept of an "orphan work," which is a copyrighted work whose owner is impossible to identify or contact, rendering the work stagnant because there's no one available to grant permission for the work to be rebooted, digitized, or otherwise "borrowed" (with the exception of fair use, of course.)  

 I found this entire situation fascinating: the idea that a work can be created, abandoned, and then, due to its copyright, fossilized into something that functionally ceases to exist and cannot be resurrected.  Particularly with regard to Carmen San Diego's Great Chase Through Time, I found this to be a good example of why copyright law should probably be reformed.  As someone who writes a copious amount of fan fiction, some of which doesn't even suck, I hate the idea of stamping an idea with a big "DO NOT USE" sticker and then letting it languish.

Anyway, I ended up finding several YouTube videos of play-throughs of Carmen San Diego's Great Chase Through Time and watching hours upon hours of someone else playing with the use of an emulator, and wrote up an article about this great little game.

Read my article about this 25-year-old game here!  It's fair use, maybe!

If the goal of the game was, ostensibly, simply to teach kids about history (and not just to make bank), then I feel like this game should absolutely be resurrected and made available.  It has so much merit; it's exactly what an educational game is supposed to be.  It's fun, it's clever, it's chock-full of puns and historical trivia, and perhaps most incredibly, a lot of that trivia stuck with me in adulthood, which shows just how effective the game was at teaching.  It's not just that the game provides knowledge but that it demonstrates how to make a really good learning game, which is a white whale that a lot of software developers still struggle with.

Letting a meritorious piece of work fade away because of a legal complication does a disservice not only to its creators (who gain nothing by letting it die), but to all those who would benefit from exposure to it.

I guess the case I'm making is that everyone should start writing Carmen San Diego fan fiction or something.

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