How do we save Shark Attack?

_Emuparadise

Who won’t miss this banner?

The ethics of emulation will always be a sensitive area among video game fans and copyright holders. Unfortunately, as much as we try to jump through hoops to justify our own behaviour, copyright law is copyright law and any violation of such is unlawful. That’s the truth, but there are other “truths” as well (please, no comments about “alternative facts”). There is often a difference between “unlawful” and “immoral” and laws do not always represent the best interests of either the infringers or the infringed upon.

Sometimes we forget how young the video game industry actually is. Indeed, there are few if any video games old enough to have aged into the public domain – I don’t know if there even are any public domain laws specifically regarding video games. Several companies have released games into the public domain themselves or have just let their copyrights expire. Companies such as Exidy have generously made many of their titles (not junk either – actual high quality ‘70s/’80s arcade games) freeware for non-commercial use.

But chances are that if you name almost any given video game from your youth – no matter how obscure today, no matter how long ago the production company folded – chances are someone, somewhere owns it and they’re not about to let it go, either as a commercial entity or a freebie.

So what brought on this topic? Well, as you may have heard, Emuparadise – in my opinion the safest, most user-friendly ROM site out there – recently announced they are pulling all the ROMs from their site, although they are leaving the site up for their other services. Emuparadise hasn’t offered much in the way of specific reasons for this move. However, scuttlebutt has it that a certain very old, very powerful video game company successfully sued a similar site. So, even though EP pulled any titles by that particular company months ago, they have decided that continuing in the ROM game is not worth the risk.

I’m not advocating for the position that we somehow “deserve” free video games. Rather, I agree with the founding principle behind MAME: to protect the code of games being lost to history. I see this happening even today; increasingly, pre-NES games are becoming persona non grata. Atari is particularly vulnerable to this because for decades it’s by and large ceased to exist as a creative entity. Sure, I see lots of younger people wearing Atari t-shirts, but it’s an ironic hipster ploy (you didn’t really think all those kids wearing Journey t-shirts a few years back actually listened to Journey, do you?).

So if we can’t download these games as ROMs, then it’s up to the copyright holders to make them available legally, and this is where the free enterprise system breaks down. The more obscure the game, the less sense it makes to put money into development, production and distribution in order to serve a fringe market.

SharkAttack_AtariGame

I don’t wanna live in a world without this.

It has been done and continues to be done, however. Back in the mid-oughts several arcade game manufacturers – including Konami, Taito, Midway and Sega – released compilations of their classic coin-ops for then-current systems. Most of these collections at least carried their most popular titles. And that’s not even to mention all the versions of Atari Flashback that have been released.

 

But we’re talking about the major players here. Who has ever made a collection of games by second- or third-tier companies such as Universal, Gremlin or Pacific Novelty? More specific to the 2600, what about Games by Apollo, CommaVid or Data East? I mean, we can probably live in a world without Shark Attack (aka Lochjaw), but I know of people who legitimately like the game. As much as I may question those peoples’ sanity, the bottom line is if they want it, there should be a way to acquire it legally. You can always buy old, used cartridges but a.) physical stuff eventually deteriorates and these carts ain’t getting any newer and b.) buying a used cartridge doesn’t help the copyright owner any more than downloading a ROM.

And speaking of Shark Attack, who owns the rights to Games by Apollo’s collection? A web search came up fruitless. What I do know is that the company was forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy all the way back in 1982. So in that case who owns Shark Attack? Some bank somewhere? The government? I don’t know enough about copyright law to answer that question.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for copyright-sitters. Small, fly-by-night companies have been making dirt-cheap videos and DVDs of public domain movies for decades and dumping them into bargain bins everywhere – why can’t the same be done for obscure video games? The more likely scenario would be dumping them on a website supported by the fan community or advertising – or with enough volume, maybe even small subscription fees. Maybe the fan community can be of assistance in providing such a space or even designing it.

I love classic gaming and am tired of the constant threats and bullying of big companies which – while justifiably protecting their own intellectual property – wind up ruining almost all classic gaming activity. I’m tired of whole swaths of video game history becoming inaccessible. I know Emuparadise is not the only ROM site out there but it was one of the biggest and one of the safest and the end of its ROM library is a major blow to keeping older, obscure games in the public consciousness.

4 thoughts on “How do we save Shark Attack?

  1. As I said in my own piece on this issue, GOG.com shows that there’s really very little excuse for copyright-sitters not to re-release old games commercially, packaged just in pure ROM file format with an appropriately licensed version of an emulator included. While that site has since branched out into more modern stuff as a viable Steam competitor, it would not have got its start without DOSBox and companies being willing to give up their old DOS files — in most cases, with little to no modification required to get them running on modern systems via emulation.

    As you say, a lot of difficulty stems from the fact that many of the companies who made the older titles simply aren’t around any more, and thus either no-one knows who holds the rights any more, or those who do hold the rights don’t have any interest in making them more readily available to others. This is why we’ve had a bajillion Atari Flashback collections with almost identical selections of games on them, but nothing from more obscure or defunct developers.

    That said, it’s sad that Activision seems to no longer be interested in leveraging its back catalogue — I think the last compilation of Activision 2600 games we saw was on the PSP, and that’s an incredible shame, because as I’m sure you know, Activision 2600 games were a cut above much of the other stuff on that platform.

    You’d think these companies would see this sort of thing as “free money”. But I guess it’s more complex than that for one reason or another. While that’s the case, many of us will have to resort to “questionable means” to get our fix on certain titles!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The other thing about GOG is that people WILL buy this stuff if it’s available again. It’s not like “pirates” just download and run away with it forever, never to offer their money again. Personally I’ve bought on GOG almost every game that I had already downloaded from abandonware sites years ago. The prices are reasonable, the company offers support if it’s necessary, many of the games have their old copy protection deactivated so you don’t have to find and type in a word from the manual, and it’s just nice to have the option of not having to keep the games on my hard drive all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep. I watched a great video from a YouTuber I like called Game Dave on this subject recently, and he quite rightly pointed out that emulation is, for many people, their first contact with these older systems — and that initial contact might inspire them to go on and collect the “real thing” at a later date.

        I have a bunch of ROMs from various systems on my hard drive without shame, because it’s impractical or even impossible to acquire them via legal means at this point. But if the ability to purchase them legally became available, I would most definitely buy at the very least copies of those games that meant something to me, or which I had spent a lot of time on.

        I played through GBC Shantae for my recent feature on the series using an emulator so I could take screenshots and video more easily. But I then went and bought a copy of the 3DS Virtual Console version. I probably won’t play it on 3DS, but with the amount of joy that game brought me, it definitely deserved an official purchase.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. There is always a lot of talk about emulation vs. “legal” gaming. However, it appears as though many of us in the retro gaming world have overlooked something.

    I originally though emulators might be illegal. I also thought downloading music for free might be illegal. There are all kinds of rumors out there, like stories of Lars Ulrich suing Napster, and workers at video game stores speak of emulation as though it’s a crime.

    However, when Pirate Bay won their case in the World Court and were allowed to continue operating, I decided to find out why.

    What I discovered is that copyright only applies to COMMERCIAL use. People are free to make personal use of copyrighted material, so there is no infringement in copying music, and there is no infringement in downloading and playing games.

    Does anybody remember libraries? Remember how libraries provide copy machines? Anyone can make copies of the books in the library and build up a collection of copies of copyrighted books to have and read at home. But folks are not allowed to open up a bookstore to make a profit selling those copies.

    Emulation is not going away no matter how many large sites throw in the towel when it comes to providing roms. It just means (somebody) with lots of money has pestered them with problems so much that they voluntarily quit. (OR possibly they were actually using the roms commercially and were threatened with an actual legit lawsuit.)

    Either way it doesn’t change the fact that there is nothing illegal or immoral in sharing, downloading, and/or playing emulated games.

    Emuparadise isn’t the first rom site to give in to legal pressure, and won’t be the last. But gamers will game on and will continue to share their roms and there is nothing wrong with that.

    With all the dialogue going around that’s easy to lose sight of. But industry bullies are no threat to Shark Attack.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s