Websites that give away previously purchased software do so with little to no pretense of legality. Whatever your opinion of torrents and sites that offer licensed software and media, it is obvious that they are prohibited in the majority of countries.
There is one kind of website that avoids the majority of derision. Games of every kind are available for free download on abandonware websites like Abandonia. Since many of these websites have been operational for years, the issue of abandonware’s legality arises.
What Is Abandonware?
Software that no longer has active support or whose copyright is not being actively enforced is referred to as “abandonware.” If a corporation that holds the rights to a piece of software goes out of business or is sold to a new owner that isn’t interested in continuing development, the software typically becomes abandonware.
Having said that, some software is declared abandonware formally or with the developer’s consent. For instance, the creators of the video game Descent released the game’s source code in 1997. Similar technique has been given to numerous additional games.
Is Abandonware Legal?
So, is it okay to download abandonware?
No, abandonware is not legal, to put it simply. A copyrighted work does not immediately become the property of the public even if the author abandons it. The duration of the copyright on the work, which varies from nation to country, is up until it expires. A video game’s copyright typically has a lifespan of at least 70 years and as long as 125 years.
Then, how do websites like Abandonia continue to exist? There must be a steady flow of legal matters arriving on their digital doorstep, right? Like most laws, you can only be punished if you are found guilty and the accusing party is prepared to prove their case. This is the reason why abandonware, despite being illegal, straddles a fine line when it comes to enforcement.
No one can file a lawsuit because most of the content on abandonware sites no longer has a legitimate owner who can actively defend the copyright. In other instances, the owner is still alive but doesn’t enforce the copyright that already exists. For instance, the iconic action-adventure game System Shock is available on a ton of abandonware websites, but Electronic Arts, the copyright holder at the moment, does nothing to stop it.
Is It Legal to Download Abandonware?
In response to your query, downloading abandonware is not permitted. But do you anticipate the police showing up at your door? or appear before a judge for violating copyright? That is incredibly unlikely.
Despite the fact that abandonware is unlawful, there have been no judicial prosecutions involving it. At least, I couldn’t discover any cases where someone was charged with a crime for downloading and playing abandonware software. Before bringing legal action, companies enforcing existing copyright frequently send a cease-and-desist letter.
When it occurs, the abandonware website responds by removing the offending title. Court action against a publication is not very useful.
By utilizing hosting services in nations that have lax policies regarding piracy, copyright enforcement, etc., those abandonware sites that continue to offer every imaginable abandonware title do so in violation of international law. For instance, while Abandonia is situated in Sweden, the abandonware website Home of the Underdogs was formed in Thailand.
Of course, the situation is different if a developer offers software for free. Despite being uncommon, a number of video games have been distributed under the General Public License, Creative Commons, and other openly accessible licenses. The developer may still have copyright on new or modified versions of the game after it has been released in this way; however, it cannot be retrieved once it has been released.
The absence of a legal precedent could also be due to a wish for goodwill. System Shock is currently available for free, however Electronic Arts has the means to take it off the market legally. What would be the point, though? Legal action can result in a PR catastrophe.
Similar to that, abandonware sites no longer contain games they care about, such as the Ultima series (see the section below on Good Old Games for further explanation).
The above-mentioned barriers make abandonware seem pretty safe from a legal perspective. As long as the distributers of abandonware abide by any cease-and-desist notices, there is little chance that they will face legal action.
Is Abandonware Safe?
There are several abandonware websites, and they all provide a relatively similar selection of outdated titles for download. Downloading abandonware must be secure given the abundance of websites.
The website you are downloading from holds the key to the solution. Major abandonware websites serving thousands of visitors each day, including MyAbandonware and Abandonia, are secure. Additionally, practically all abandonware games are hosted on these websites, so you don’t have to search the shadowy corners of the internet for a game.
Reasons For Abandonware Sites and Downloads
Abandonware is forbidden. That is comprehended. However, abandonware is generally advantageous for other reasons as well.
The main justification is preservation. Whereas many ancient games would have just vanished into the digital ether, abandonware websites keep old games preserved for anybody to access.
The Internet Archive and the British Library both make efforts to preserve vintage games and their source code, however these initiatives are selective. Even the more obscure titles continue to exist thanks to the abandonware site option.
The goals of the game designers should also be taken into account.
“Is it theft? Sure, sure. So what, then? “says Double Fine Productions’ Tim Schafer (responsible for Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and many other classics).
“Most game developers no longer rely on the income from those older games to support themselves. There is no possibility the folks who should be receiving royalties on such games are still doing so as the majority of the creative teams behind them have long since departed the companies that published them. So feel free to steal this game! Love one another!”