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Does anyone know for certain whether or not the AD&D games produced by SSI in the '80s have been released to the public domain?

I have seen them offered for download at several abandonware sites, and was wondering whether or not they were legitimately available.

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

No, they are not.

Since 1976, copyrighting works created in the United States does not require registration, or, subsequently, renewal. This means that all works created since 1976 must be assumed to be copyrighted for the full term of 95 years, or until, at a minimum, the year 2071. Thanks to the Berne Convention, these copyright durations apply in all other signatory countries, which covers nearly the entire world. Notable exceptions include Taiwan, Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Uganda, and Sierra Leone. Note that some of these non signatory countries may be party to other treaties or agreements, or may have other local laws in place which have similar effects.

The only way for software to enter the public domain is for it's author to explicitly renounce any claim of copyright and place it there.

Most 'abandonware' sites host what are commonly referred to as Orphan Works, i.e. works for which the copyright holder is unknown and/or unreachable. In most cases, these sites operate on the, (largely accurate) assumption that either the copyright owners do not care, or that the ownership of a work is sufficiently questionable or unknown that the threat of legal action for their infringement is slim to none.

What is legal is the circumvention of any sort of copy-protection or DRM mechanism that these games might have, for the purpose of archiving and preserving it, thanks to a 2006 DMCA exemption. This is a fairly narrowly defined right however.

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Hence the phrasing of my question as "released to the public domain". –  Tharius Aug 22 '11 at 19:59
    
@stephen: One can never be too safe, if you look at the history of questions that start looking into IP law here at Gaming.se. It's a subject fraught with misinformation and the already confusing nature of the subject doesn't help matters much. That said, this is a pretty good resource for a first pass to see if a game has been rereleased under a free license of some sort. (Since actual 'public domain' releases are shockingly rare in the age of the 'Free Software License.') –  LessPop_MoreFizz Aug 22 '11 at 20:10
    
Are you a lawyer? –  StrixVaria Aug 22 '11 at 21:23
2  
@Strix No, but I'm friends with several. More to the point, I have, for various reasons, dedicated a great deal of time in my life to researching and dealing with copyright law. I'm not a Lawyer, nothing I post is legal advice, and you should damn well consult one if you want to act on anything I've posted that might be questionable. But in general, you'll get in less trouble taking my advice than that of most others on the web, since my advice generally amounts to "Don't Do It." –  LessPop_MoreFizz Aug 22 '11 at 21:31
    
Good expansion on the dmca ... thanks! –  Tharius Aug 22 '11 at 23:32
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