ABANDONWARE, ALL YE WHO ENTER
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.