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Month: February 2014

Extended Copyrights In Games Means A Loss Of Culture For Gamers

There is a bit of a hubbub about video games and copyright going on right now. It all started with a post over on Rock Paper Shotgun about why John Walker thought that games need to enter the public domain. He has a lot to say and I recommend reading the whole thing before commenting on anything he has said. The short version is that too many games are lost to time and not available for anyone to purchase. If those games had entered the public domain, they would be more accessible for modern gamers.

Naturally, these comments got a lot of people in the games industry riled up. Not all comments were knee-jerk. There were some thoughtful ones. Particularly a post by Steve Gaynor, one of the Gone Home developers, made some great arguments about how back catalogs of games and other media help fund new works. Another great response was from Paul Taylor, Joint Managing Director of Mode 7 Games. In this one, Paul discussed the public domain and how living creators may feel when their works entered the public domain during their lives.

But I want to look at this in a slightly different direction, that of the game consumer. What does it mean for them if games don’t enter the public domain? First I want to show something that I think many of you may have seen. This is what is called the “Mickey Mouse Curve” of copyright extensions.

Mickey Mouse Curve

This graph shows the changes in copyright duration throughout US history. In the latter half of the graph, you see a correlation of copyright term extensions and the expiration date of Steamboat Willie’s copyright. Every time Steamboat Willie was about to enter the public domain, Disney lobbied Congress for an extension. It will once again be coming up for expiration in a few years, and we will probably revisit this debate.