What is Abandonware, and legalities?

The word abandonware is already a giveaway, for those who don’t know what it is. Abandonware are old software for which future developments were already discontinued (and is no longer available for purchase) or perhaps, the copyrights are not actively enforced by the publishers.

The software usually becomes abandonware when publishers decided to move unto the newer versions of the same software, or the company that owns the right has gone out of business, or sold to a new owner which has no interest to maintain/support or continuing the development.

But why do some people still download and use it? And is it legal?

Why Abandonware are downloaded?

Nostalgia and stability

Microsoft Windows XP Still famous and being used

The mass’s interest is not always for the new and the latest. Sometimes, it feels so good to revisit the old days. You see, no one can ever escape nostalgia, believe me.

Maybe that’s why Polaroid cameras, and even film manufacturing businesses are making a big comeback, finally regaining all that’s lost after the massive entrance of the digital age. Technology evolves every single day, and it’s faster than ever. But we don’t always have to go with the flow. As I said, sometimes it feels so good to revisit the old days like the Windows Mobile OS.

I was born in ’96, and I grow up to the infancy of the digital age. It was the time when the world is beginning to transition from analog to digital (the fact that I’ve seen and used computers with floppy disks blows my mind).

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I grow up playing Snake, Space Impact, Bounce, Memory, and Bantumi on old Nokia phones, and I always lose the game playing Mario Kart: Super Circuit on my cousin’s Gameboy. During elementary and high school, I stab people on GTA: Vice City and runaway from the cops using stolen cars. And I’ve saved my brain from zombies, thanks to Crazy Dave.

So you see, some software has once became part of my childhood life (of our lives) that sometimes, going back to it brings good memories. And that’s nostalgia.

But there are also times when people find the new development a bit of a lackluster compared to the previous version.

Case in point, when Apple launched the Final Cut Pro X, some professional editors decided to move to Premiere Pro, or continue using the discontinued Final Cut Pro 7 for their workflows. This is because the Final Cut Pro X has dropped many legacy and non-legacy features from the original Final Cut Pro, and the editing interface is also far below what the older version offers, which for professional editors doesn’t seem fitted for their existing workflows. This makes the discontinued Final Cut Pro 7 the more stable option for these professionals.

However, abandonware is not always about what we used to play with or use from the past. Perhaps, it’s also a game that we can never afford to play before, or a software we always dream to have.

Is Abandonware legal?

No. Abandonware is not legal, although you can find copies of these softwares free for download anywhere on the internet. Abandoning a software development doesn’t always make it a public property. These software remains protected for the duration of the copyright, depending on the existing laws in your country.

Last year, Nintendo sued owners of two famous ROM sharing websites (LoveROMs.com, and LoveRetro.co), for an alleged “mass-scale infringement of Nintendo’s intellectual property rights.” Nintendo later won the case, awarding them $12 million. After the lawsuit, some ROM sharing websites has started taking down copyrighted titles.

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However, there are still websites which hosts abandoned software. While it is illegal to distribute most of these software, some abandonware sites remain uncharged by law by only distributing software which no longer have an owner, or in some cases, the owner still exist but has decided not to file copyright claims against these sites.

Some abandonware websites also get away from the legal repercussions by using international borders to their advantage. This is why some piracy websites are located to places where anti-piracy laws are not strictly implemented.

But what does this mean for us? Well, the internet made it difficult for authorities to track down each single individual who downloads these copyrighted materials. That is why, companies like Nintendo would rather file lawsuits against the distributors, rather than those who downloads these old copyrighted software.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When is a game considered abandonware?

A game is considered abandonware when:
1. the company for the game no longer exists or develops the game
2. the game developer is active but has not updated the game in a long time (more than 2 years)
3. the product was released to open source and development is ended
4. the copyright is running out
5. the product is no longer easily obtainable
6. the game itself was considered by the company

2. What happens if I download abandonware?

There are websites which host abandoned software. While it is illegal to distribute most of this software, some abandonware sites remain uncharged by law by only distributing software which no longer has an owner, or in some cases, the owner still exists but has decided not to file copyright claims against these sites. You can use such software or games.

3. How to get the rights to abandonware?

Contact the software company’s legal department, explain to them about the software that you would like to have rights for. Asking for a license to distribute the software for free on your web site may be reasonable to many publishers. Or perhaps you’d like the publisher to release the software into the public domain an option that will be distasteful to many publishers who are unwilling to completely give up rights to their work, no matter how old.

4. Where to find abandonware?

You can find abandonware software, games or tools from websites like Vetusware, Abandonia or directories like abandonware – the official ring and abandonware.

5. Is rom sharing legal?

The fact is that someone made a copy of a game and you downloaded it, that is illegal. This is the same for all forms of media. The only time this situation could be legally defensible is if the person downloading the game were to claim fair use.

6. How long does abandonware copyright last?

Copyright for an abandonware for most lasts 70 years beyond the life of the author, or, in the case of works created by companies or as works-for-hire, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation (whichever expires first).

7. Are there any abandonware sites?

Yes, there are quite a few sites. There are portals that list abandonware sites (i.e., Abandonwarering), blogs discussing abandonware gaming, and sites that offer abandoned games downloads. Games Nostalgia, Abandonia, XTC are all abandonware sites.

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