First post, by FeedingDragon
I've seen many posts mentioning Abandonware software. I, personally, consider it the same as piracy. I may not agree with, but I do understand, the arguments against this point of view, and I try not to judge. For informational purposes, I have put together a list of solutions to the legal issues that are involved. These are the steps I take when I really want an older game that could be considered abandonware.
1) I usually make an attempt to find it for sale somewhere (Office Depot bargain bin, Hastings, Wal-Mart, etc...) With the older games, this isn't a likely source, however, I always prefer new purchases over used. I don't always follow this step. Though, in a surprisingly large number of cases, I've found them readily available on compilations by just performing a web search. In larger compilations that include games I either already have or have no interest in, I will continue on to the following steps anyways. Though, you will have to be aware that steps 3 & 4 become less likely to succeed if the games are still available, even in a compilation.
2) Next check out auction sites such as eBay or Yahoo. I also check out local Garage sales that list older computers (C64, Amiga, Atari, etc...) An important note on intellectual properties and licenses: when you purchase a game, legally you are just purchasing a license to use that game. From a legal standpoint, the license does not differ between computer systems. So, if you own "Bard's Tale - Tales of the Unknown," for the C64, then you have a legal right to play it on your PC or Amiga as well, as long as you never play it on more than one system at a time. This doesn't make it legal for web sites to make the game available for download; it just makes it legal for you to download the game. There is an exception to this, if there are major changes between system versions, they can be listed under different copyrights (and thus different licenses.) The law as I read it isn't clear about what exactly constitutes a major change. A lawyer I spoke with about it said that it requires a roughly 25% change (not a change in language, 8088 assembly to 6502 assembly for example, but actual content change.) If you are unsure, and want to make sure, you can request information from the copyright office, (see the final paragraph below,) if the different platform versions are covered under a single copyright or not.
3) If you are completely unable to find the game, or just cannot afford some of the more ridiculous prices for it, you still have options. I've seen older games going for prices that most just cannot afford. I've seen "Ultima II," for example, go for over $200. At this point, I usually send a written letter (with self addressed stamped envelope,) to the copyright owner asking to either purchase the game, or get written permission to gain a copy for my own use. I make it clear that I'm willing to waive technical support on the game. In a couple of cases, when I've done this, I've actually received a cheapo copy of the game from them in the mail (Just the disks with manual printed on an office printer, no extras or boxes, etc...) I've never received an offer to buy the game, but I imagine that it is possible. Usually I receive a letter giving me permission to copy it (I have a file just stuffed with these.) Sometimes I get a letter telling me that they will not give me permission (EA is bad about this, I'm afraid, but I never give up.) At this point, I stop (temporarily, I try again in 6 months.)
4) If you don't receive any response, then there is one last chance. Send a certified letter to the copyright owner stating your intention to procure a copy of the game unless they instruct you not to. State clearly that failure to respond will be taken as tacit permission to obtain the copy. Give them plenty of time to respond to this letter (from the time they receive it.) The longer you give them the better; however, I've been advised that 3 months is a good minimum. This is straight forward copyright law that anyone can look up in the library. If any copyright owner is informed of an infringement (or possible future infringement,) on their intellectual properties, and they take no actions to stop or prevent it, then they lose the rights to that particular copyright, and it becomes public domain. I've only had to go this route once, and I have to admit that they responded extremely fast telling me not to do it. They are on my “ask politely again in 6 months” list (and never get to the certified letter stage again.) Sending a second such letter takes you into harassment. So, don't send any more of that nature unless the copyright owner changes.
The only really difficult part of this is when the original copyright holder no longer exists (Origin Systems for example.) Usually a simple search on the web will let you locate who now owns the copyright. If that fails, then you can usually gain the information by sending a self addressed stamped envelope to the copyright office requesting the information. When I first started questing for older games, there was no charge for this, and I don't have any information that this has changed. However, I haven't sent such a request in several years so I cannot guarantee that. When in doubt, it never hurts to ask first. The certified letter costs a bit (not much though, I believe it's $4 or $5 now.) Other than that, these steps just take time & effort.