Public Knowledge to Copyright Office: Free 'World of Warcraft'

Archivists, academics and researchers should be able to circumvent copy protections to curate and study multiplayer video games.

That is according to Public Knowledge, which is pressing the Copyright Office to expand the video game exemption to include multiplayer games that involve accessing and or reproducing copyrighted content from an external server.

Currently the exemption excludes such access and is confined to single-player games. Every three years the office has to hold hearings on exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The first round of comments for 2018 exemptions were due this week.

Public Knowledge points out the popularity of the games, not only to players but to archivists who may want to collect a particularly iteration of a multi-player game, as well as researchers and scholars who study them.

"Multiplayer is the de facto standard," says Meredith Rose, policy counsel at Public Knowledge and herself a gamer. "It is huge, and growing and extremely lucrative. It makes sense that we need to archive video games and we absolutely have to archive multi-player modes."

Rose says there is a museum of digital entertainment whose main function is to archive video games for posterity and it wants to archive the games that use the server-side software," says Rose. She says they are willing to reconstruct the software rather than getting access to the originals.

As to the popularity among players, Public Knowledge points out that Sci-fi shooter game Destiny 2 had 1.2 million concurrent players one day in September, that MOBA League of Legends has had multi multi-million user days, while Overwatch had 7 million unique players in its first week.

Among the preservation issues are game updates, like the many updates to World of Warcraft over a dozen years that has changed the mechanics of the game and actually led to the loss of the original version--tabbed vanilla WOW--which some users tried to recreate from scratch and made it available on a free-to-play server (Nostalrius) until WOW creator Blizzard shut it down.

As to the preservation and scholarly uses of circumvention that trump the copyright protections meant to protect against piracy, Public Knowledge points to, among other things, economists using multiplayer games to study markets, epidemiologists and terrorism researchers using WOW to study behavior, and psychologists researching the effect of those games on social skills and addiction.

"Online multiplayer games are a dominant force in the art form," Public Knowledge told the Copyright Office, while "preservation under the current exemption for these games is difficult-to-impossible."

There is also a lot of video game value makers want to preserve against piracy.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, gamers bought over 24.5 billion games in 2016 generating over $30 billion in revenue. That includes online subscriptions, downloadable content, mobile applications, and social networking games.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.