Be­fore even be­gin­ning to wres­tle it into work­ing, the act of ac­quir­ing an old PC game can be tricky in it­self. Phys­i­cal me­dia drives are an in­creas­ingly rare sight on mod­ern ma­chines, and there’s ev­ery chance you threw all your old games out years ago. It might be tempt­ing to hunt for a disc ISO file of some for­got­ten trea­sure on an aban­don­ware site, but be­fore you do, it’s worth know­ing the le­gal­ity of those ac­tions, and what the term aban­don­ware means.

Es­sen­tially, the term de­fines a le­gal no-man’sland in which a prod­uct’s copy­right might not have ex­pired, but since its owner no longer sup­plies it for le­gal pur­chase or sup­ports it, it “aban­dons” copy­right en­force­ment. It’s safe to as­sume Ac­tivi­sion doesn’t have a le­gal team pur­su­ing all those who down­load ISOs of its 1998 shooter SiN, for ex­am­ple, but that doesn’t mean it’s le­gal to do so. Real­world ex­am­ple: Since Mi­crosoft of­fi­cially stopped sup­port­ing Win­dows XP in 2014, nu­mer­ous sites have of­fered it for free, and none has faced le­gal ac­tion.

So, if you own a phys­i­cal copy of a cer­tain aban­don­ware game, but no longer have a CDROM drive with which to in­stall it, you’re still not tech­ni­cally within your rights to down­load a cracked ver­sion on­line. But since it can’t be pur­chased new else­where any­more, the copy­right holder is un­likely to pe­nal­ize you. If the com­pany that holds the copy­right no longer ex­ists, you’re on even safer ground, and if the orig­i­nal soft­ware was dis­trib­uted un­der a share­ware li­cense (like the first third of

Doom), well, the feds prob­a­bly aren’t tail­ing you day and night and pre­par­ing to haul you off to San Quentin. Share­ware is fine. The im­por­tant thing is to check whether some­thing re­ally is aban­don­ware be­fore down­load­ing.

Sid Meier prob­a­bly isn’t go­ing to turn up irate at your door when

you down­load Civ­i­liza­tion I.

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