Abandonware is computer software which is no longer being sold or supported by its copyright holder. Alternativeely, the term is also used for software which is still available, but on which further support and development has been deliberately discontinued. Sometimes, it is used as a blanket category for any software over a certain age, usually five years.

The term has no legal meaning. This means that labeling any kind of software 'abandonware' does not make it legal to distribute it. Unless put in the public domain, any and all abandonware remains covered under copyright law.


Popular abandonware

The most common abandonware is old video games, either computer games, older video game console or arcade games that are played through emulation.

Some people feel that various older games are more fun than newer games (hence old school gamers), in part because their designers had to concentrate on game play features other than graphics, so these games have gained a second life by being distributed over the Internet. Old school gamers are responsible for the popularity of console emulation. An abandonware fan is a video game player who thinks that video games that are no longer on the market are more fun than video games that are still on the market. It's worth noting that in many cases, nostalgia is a significant factor in the popularity of abandonware video games.

Enforcement of copyright

Abandonware's copyright is frequently no longer defended. This can be due to intentional non-enforcement by its owners due to the software's age or obsolescence, but sometimes because the corporate copyright holder went out of business without transferring ownership, leaving no one to defend the copyright. (Copyrights owned by an individual who dies become the property of the person's estate.) Nevertheless, some companies vehemently defend their rights to old games from which they're no longer making profit.

Proponents of abandonware argue that it is more ethical to make copies of such software than new software that still sells. Some who are ignorant of copyright law have incorrectly taken this to mean that abandonware is legal to distribute, although no software is old enough for its copyrights to have expired, and even in cases where the original company no longer exists, the rights usually still belong to someone.

Transfer of this software is still technically unlawful in most jurisdictions (except in cases of owner dissolution) as the copyright is still in effect. Abandonware changes hands based on the presumption that the time and money that a copyright holder would have to spend enforcing the copyright is greater than any money the holder would earn selling software licenses. Often the availability of abandonware on the Internet is related to the willingness of copyright holders to defend their copyrights. For example, unencumbered emulators and games for Colecovision are markedly easier to find on the Internet than unencumbered emulators and games for Mattel Intellivision in large part because there is still a company that makes money by selling Intellivision games while no such company exists for the Colecovision.

Companies do sometimes voluntarily relinquish copyright on software, putting it into the public domain, or re-license it as freeware or open source. id Software is notable as an early proponent of this practice, releasing older titles under an open source license. Another example is Amstrad, who support emulation and free distribution of ZX Spectrum hardware ROMs and software. Transfer of public domain or free software is perfectly legal, distinguishing it from abandonware. However, relinquishing copyright is uncommon — the copyright ownership of all portions is often unclear, creating difficulties in open-sourcing, and there is rarely an economic incentive to do so. Also, limited time promotional free downloads are often mistaken for a proper freeware release.

Old copyrights that are still of value

A common misconception is that "abandonware" is synonymous with "old warez", that is, any software older than a certain threshold (a common one being five years). This is not always the case, as some software companies (like Apogee) still offer many of their older titles for sale and actively pursue those who illegally offer them. Atari 2600 games are commonly distributed on the Internet based on the presumption that no one would buy a primitive Atari game. However, mobile phone manufacturers have bought the rights to use these games, which can be made to work well on newer programmable mobile phones.

Some publishers argue that all abandonware distribution is harmful, whether it is still possible to buy the game or not. The reasoning is that because of the success companies like Nintendo and Activision have had in releasing old games for newer platforms like the GameCube, Game Boy Advance and the PlayStation 2, all abandonware has potential value, and that distributing it free on the Internet decreases the profits to be had from a legal rerelease.

Major software made available


The following formerly paid games have been made available for free download by their copyright holders for various reasons, often as publicity for a forthcoming sequel or compilation release.

(Get it here (http://www.scummvm.org/downloads.php))

See also

External links

Legal "abandonware" titles for download

  • Remain In Play (http://www.remaininplay.com/) — Features only abandonware that has been officaly released by their copyright owners
  • The Underdogs (http://www.the-underdogs.org/) — One of the oldest Abandonware site, with huge catalog and a lot of information. One of the best sites for Abandonware paraphernalia.
  • Abandonia (http://www.abandonia.com/) — The site has many abandonware games, and some freeware ones too. It also has a friendly community.
  • World of Spectrum (http://www.worldofspectrum.org/) — huge archive of legal Spectrum ZX downloads, with permission from Amstrad, the copyright holder.
  • Liberated Games (http://liberatedgames.org/) — a similar site.
  • Oldware.net (http://www.Oldware.net/) — a french site.
  • replacementdocs (http://www.replacementdocs.com/) — a huge archive of manuals and documentation for playing old games
  • BHLegend (http://www.bhlegend.com/) — An abandonware site operated from Bosnia
  • rgNet Abandonware (http://savefile.com/projects/214475) Large Growing List of Abandonware. (believed to be legal)ca:Abandonware

de:Abandonware fr:Abandonware nl:Abandonware pl:Abandonware sv:Abandonware


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