Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sharing Video Game Manuals

A site called offers an interesting service related to video games. People can upload images of their video game manuals and then anyone can download them. Apparently, a lot of people have submitted to this site as they have a wide variety of game manuals, including ones from recent games or manuals for the Atari 2600.

Old video game manuals are often a lot of fun as you get to see artist’s renderings of 8-bit characters. Some of them even provide useful information, maybe providing maps or point values for certain enemies. A lot of people, including myself, just throw out the manual and pop in the game as soon as they get it. Hence, replacementdocs seems like a really wonderful and helpful service.

Photo Source

However, this site is far from being legal, as it’s allowing access to copyrighted material. What replacementdocs does is no different from any average Joe scanning a novel in its entirety and then placing it on the internet for people to download. The person who has copyright on that material loses out on possible revenue they could gain from selling that book.

The majority of manuals on replacementdocs are out-of-print and even if you have an old game, I highly doubt you can call Nintendo (or Atari) and ask for a replacement manual, which makes replacementdocs helpful. However, copyright law as I know it (hell, I don’t know much about law) covers the author of the work up to seventy years past their death, which means that all video games and all products made with the video game (i.e. manuals) are still covered for a long time. Therefore, all of the manuals on replacementdocs are going against copyright law.

Sure, this is illegal, but I doubt many companies will do anything about it. Just because replacementdocs is performing an illegal act does not mean that the publishers of the video game will sue. Actually, this illegal act may be beneficial for the company as it will put there name out there to the public more easily. This, in turn, could lead to people being interested in the game (or other games in the series) just by seeing the manual. Video game publishers are always looking to put their names out there so that they can gain more revenue. Upon seeing a site like replacementdocs, these companies probably did a cost-benefit analysis and thought that this service is beneficial, especially since it didn’t cost them any money to host the site or upload the manuals.

This same logic could probably be applied to sites that host illegal ROMs to download. Older games are not being produced anymore, so putting them out free to download might actually help the company keep interest among new consumers. This being said, Table Salt does not condone downloading questionable content. If you have interest in a game (or manual), rent it or buy it. Developers and publishers need the money in order to make more great games, so every bit helps. Also, while you can go to replacementdocs, download the manuals at your own risk.


Lima said...

"This being said, Table Salt does not condone downloading questionable content."

So no philosophical essays, right?

shawn said...

A cool idea, but this does sound like a questionable site to me. If the authors of the manuals have given the site permission to host/resell their manuals, then there shouldn't be a problem. But the site rather oddly admits that "Technically, no, it's not legal" on their FAQ page, and then notes that they "have secured explicit permission to host manuals from some game publishers, however others have been less responsive to [their] requests.". Absent permission from the copyright holders, it's hard to see how this service could be any less illegal than reselling pdf images of an entire book without the author's permission. So, while the service sounds like a great idea, they're probably going to need to get permission from the game manual writers to have any kind of long lasting legitimacy.

You're right that some manual authors and game manufacturers may have determined that permitting the illegal sales might be ecomomically preferable (in that the company gets continued exposure to customers who may buy future products from them as a result) than a lawsuit to enjoin the practice, combined with the potentially nasty PR hit the companies might take from the gaming community for trying to prevent the downloads. One need only remember the kinds of criticism lodged at Lars Ulrich (drummer for Metallica) and others when he helped lead the charge against Napster for an example of this. See, e.g., "Lars Ulrich's Death Wish: Metallica v. Their Fans". That said, the fact that gaming companies haven't sued the site (or at least that we don't know about such lawsuits) doesn't necessarily mean that the companies have tacitly consented to it. They may not know about it, they may be waiting to sue, there's no way to know.

Anonymous said...

While Richard might not condone downloading Questionable Content, I do. It's humor is pretty hit or miss, but I still condone reading it.

Richard R. said...

@lima: That was an amazingly clever comment. I approve.

@shawn: Even with that Lars Ulrich case, Metallica still has fans. Wow.

@will: Well done. I support that questionable content.

shawn said...

I may be one of the only guitarists who never liked Metallica. There I said it.

Mike Liang said...

The thing is that in the US, the media is a de facto element of the justice system. ReplacementDocs can't be sued, because it's impossible to recover more than would be lost in PR. If only I could find that article.

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