Websites that sell free versions of previously paid software do so with little to no semblance of legality. On the other hand, torrents and warez sites that offer paid software and media are clearly unlawful in most countries, regardless of how you feel about them.
We have discussed the legality of private game servers before. Just like many private servers, some abandonware websites have been online for years, leading to the question of whether abandonware is legal or not.
The main problem is: What is abandonware, and is it safe and legal to use? Let’s find out!
What Is Abandonware Exactly?
The name abandonware alludes to a software or program that no longer receives active support. Therefore, the developer or the company does not actively enforce the copyright.
The entity that holds the rights to the software has either gone out of business or has been sold to a new owner that is not interested in pursuing its development.
This is significant because it raises some important legal questions.
Let’s imagine you are pirating a game that was produced and distributed by a company that no longer exists. Is it possible for you to get into trouble? What if you could download a game that an established developer produced years ago but that you can no longer buy officially?
We will discuss its safety and legality now!
Is My Abandonware Safe?
There are already plenty of abandonware websites out there, each with a comparable selection of classic games to download. So, is it safe to download abandonware from so many sites?
The site from which you are downloading is the source of the solution. Major abandonware sites such as MyAbandonware and Abandonia, which serve a large number of users every other day, are safe.
These websites also carry practically every abandonware title, so you won’t have to scour the internet for a label on a shady website.
The game archives MyAbandonware gives are never modified; however, not all of them are tested for viruses. Old DOS apps, on the other hand, will not be able to infect your PC.
Windows games may include a NoCD software (also known as a crack file), which is known to contain malware or bugs. Always run a scan using an antivirus program. MyAbandonware will not be held liable for any system damage on your computer, as they ask you to use it at your own risk.
Is Abandonware Legal?
Now, let’s get into the most asked question about abandonware: Is it legal to download abandonware?
Abandonware is not legal, to cut a long story short. A copyrighted work does not immediately become public property if the creator abandons it. Instead, the copyright on the work remains in effect until it expires, which varies by country. For example, a video game’s copyright typically lasts between 70 to 125 years.
So, how do websites like Abandonia stay afloat? Isn’t there a steady stream of lawsuits arriving on their digital doorstep?
Punishment occurs only if you get caught, and the opposite side is prepared to make the charges stick, as is the case with most laws. This is why, while abandonware is illegal, it skirts a fine line between the fringes of legality.
Because the majority of content on abandonware sites no longer has an owner who can actively enforce copyright, no one can sue those that download abandonware illegally.
In some instances, the owner still remains, but the copyright is not enforced. For example, the iconic action-adventure game System Shock can be found on several of the abandonware sites, which is because the current copyright holder, Electronic Arts, seems to do nothing about it.
Is It Legal to Download Abandonware?
To answer this particular question, downloading abandonware is not legal. Are you, however, likely to be sued in civil court? Or will you end up in front of a judge for infringing on someone’s copyright? No, you won’t!
Even though abandonware is illegal, there have been no judicial prosecutions involving it. At least nothing that we could discover that included someone being prosecuted for downloading and playing an abandoned game.
Before starting a case, companies defending existing copyright typically send a cease-and-desist notice. When this happens, the abandonware site responds by removing the offending title. Thus, taking a publisher to trial is a waste of time.
Most abandonware websites that continue to provide every abandonware title possible do it by avoiding international law. Instead, they use hosting services in states where piracy, copyright enforcement, and other laws are less strict.
Of course, the situation is different if a developer releases apps for free. Several games have been distributed under the GNU General Public License, Creative Commons, and other publicly available licenses, albeit they are rare.
A game cannot be retrieved once it has been released in this manner. Still, the developer may retain copyright on new or updated versions of the game.
A desire for goodwill could be another explanation for the lack of legal precedent. Electronic Arts have the legal clout to target every free copy of System Shock on the web. What would be the point, though? Legal action could backfire and tarnish their already damaged reputation.
Abandonware is a tricky topic, just like the legality of game emulators, because everyone has an opinion on whether or not downloading it is moral. While it is illegal to steal abandoned software, a corporation is unlikely to pursue downloaders unless the game is being remastered or re-released.
You are unlikely to get in trouble for downloading an outdated game and playing it endlessly. Because of copyright law, the issues and grey areas of abandonware legality will not alter. It is up to you to decide if downloading Abandonware is the right decision.