My problem with the voracious defense of materials displayed by many companies, including the major players in video games today, is the restriction of information and learning of/from said information.
The aforementioned example of Niels Ferguson is one such example of this restriction. As a cryptographer, he is an academic and a scientist. However, because a corporation(s) stands to lose from his study, he is essentially forbidden from publishing an article for academic purposes. The DMCA had the intention of protecting authors (i.e. corporate copyright holders), but instead can be used to bully down academic progress in the field of information technology. This is, of course, a normal response from your common corporate entity; rather than confronting and addressing a problem, they seek to stifle any mention (and possible solution to) the problem itself.
This is not too far outside the realm of electronic entertainment, as one could consider gaming to be a less-vital subset of IT. Emulation has done vast good for the spreading of new experiences previously withheld us by publishers.
One story: In the Summer of 1999, two translation projects were completed. Patches were released for Seiken Densetsu 3 and Final Fantasy 5. Of course, I downloaded each and played the hell out of them. In doing so, I used the roms and the emulators, and thus broke the law.
My issue is that, without the ubiquitous emulator, American gamers would never have seen an English release of SD3 (we saw a passable FF5 translation on the PS1). Even though laws were broken, important (well, to me, anyway) new experiences were shared with me and countless others. I have difficulty balancing the good against the bad here, as I surely would have purchased the game had it been released here. However, I know absolutely no Japanese, and at the time I had no money. (I only recently purchased the game a few months ago.) Could we say the company (i.e. Square) forfeited any profits (intentionally or not) stemming from an American distribution of their release by ignoring their stateside fanbase?
It would seem that in some cases, when the corporations do not provide as the consumer desires, the consumer will go elsewhere. Of course, with that control by the company being eroded in even a economically harmless manner (such as the distribution of older roms), the natural survival instinct of the company will be to defend it's comparatively worthless intellectual property for little or no reason. Under law, an American corporation (don't know about a Japanese form, though I wouldn't be surprised by any similarities) is bound to act only
in the interest of investors. Thus, we see a witch hunt to extend copyrights ad infinitum and decimate any free exchange of (what should be) public domain.
([US] Constitutionally there should only be (I think) a seven year ownership of copyright. Of course, many corporations, using an odd interpretation of the 13th Amendment, can be counted as individuals. Using lobbied copyright laws, they can then keep their copyright for some 20 years after the death of the copyright holder, which it being a corporation, means forever.)
So, at least in America, we shouldn't have any trouble trading around roms from the SNES days. Rather than allow the natural progression from profitability to public domain, though, corporations still fight, and not always in the neatest of manners. Nintendo is trying to stifle the development of emulation through use of submarine patents.
Sony sued Bleem out of existence, but were only able to over BIOS issues and abuse of the DMCA (but, are there any good
uses for the DMCA?). Luckily, the ability to safely reverse-engineer is sacrosanct, for now...
Thus, my question is not if the legality of emulation, but the basis for our copyright laws in general. Of course, video games would fall in with music, books, etc. Yes, it is illegal, but would these laws stand up to a jury nullification if ever used in court? I can't say for sure. Mind you, I don't advocate the illicit copying of recent releases, as these would still be covered pursuant to the original Constitutional spirit of giving the authors/musicians/developers time to make a profit.
However, the needless maintainence of copyright over old material is a waste and detrimental to the growing history of video gaming. The time has come that we can look back and appreciate past efforts in development. I hold the position that it would be more beneficial to allow the free exchange of older games so that a new generation can experience them without needless hassle. I'd much rather see my younger friends play such an older release than to have some corporate overlord sleep better at night knowing he has complete control over a gaming legacy.
Thus, my end point is that (coming from an educator's point of view) we have a means of sharing a rich and varied past, though such aims would be negated by unfair (and unconstitutional) copyright rules that, on their merits alone, have superficial legality themselves. I'd say such experiences belong to gamers now. We shouldn't have to defend a large and very wealthy video-gaming infrastructure; it should be content with maximizing profits in the here and now and not worrying about quashing the exchange of a library it no longer has any need to control.
Well, that's my yarn. Please pardon any inconsistencies or errors I've made. I try to proofread, but stuff still gets by me. Remember that this is in the spirit of debate, so don't anyone get offended now. Also, it's very American-centric, so I beg the pardon of non-US folks.