I have discussed in the past my complex relationship with the Electronic Freedom Foundation. This week has made that relationship even more complex. The organization has invalidated a podcasting patent which has been used to bludgeon popular podcasters. That certainly adds a positive point for them, but that wasn't their only big story.
In November, the EFF petitioned for an exemption to the DMCA DRM rules that would allow users to alter videogames that have had their online capabilities shuttered. The goal is to allow gamers to bring those games back from the dead so that money they had spent on those games was not in vein. It is certainly an interesting idea, but one that was guaranteed to be met with resistance.
That resistance materialized formally this week in the form of a 71-page brief by the Entertainment Software Association. The brief was filed with the support of the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America, two organizations who have had a rough decade in their relationship with the Internet and have had trouble proving that they know exactly what it is.
The ESA wrote,
Hacking video game access controls facilitates piracy and therefore undermines the core anti-piracy purposes of (the DMCA). Hacking the video game access controls requires, by definition, hacking of the video game console or similar device in order to play the hacked video game. Once the access controls for the video game console are hacked, regardless of the purported purpose or intent of the hacker, any content, including pirated games, can be played on a video game console...
Contrary to the proponents' claims that they should be able to 'play games that they have already paid for,' circumvention would enable users to avoid paying for a variety of online services, including network-based multiplayer gameplay, and get a better deal than they bargained for... users generally are not entitled to access online services (including multiplayer gameplay) as a result of purchasing a game.
I have a foot in each camp here. As a gamer, it certainly angers me when a game I purchased for particular features stops offering those features for which I have paid because of a decision made by people I cannot meet with. As a developer, however, I agree with the notion of protecting intellectual property. Making it legal to alter the game would mean making it legal to decompile the game, which would certainly expose intellectual property which could harm the publisher immensely. In fact, it could harm them irreparably, preventing them from publishing new games in the future.
Normally my feelings on the EFF are strong one way or the other - it is not common for them to bring a position that I partially agree with, or at least can understand both sides of the case. It will be interesting to see where this goes, but it seems unlikely that the EFF is going to win this one.