saving private gromit
This past March, I attended the “Westminster Media Fo- rum Keynote Seminar: The state of play—next steps for the U.K. video games industry.” The previous day the U.K. government had announced a series of tax
breaks for the animations and games
industry, and there was a real sense in
the room that video games were finally
taking their place in the cultural heritage landscape.
The emergence of games as cultural objects poses some interesting
questions both for the industry and
for government. There is an indisputable public interest argument for preserving for future generations those
objects that we take to have cultural
significance. Games, often dismissed
as mere “entertainment,” nevertheless speak to a very wide international
audience and express something profound about the current zeitgeist. To
that extent, at the very least, they are
preservation-worthy. But what will
preserving them involve, and who is
going to pay the preservation piper?
An obvious suggestion is that
games ought to be preserved by the
libraries, archives, and museums that
take responsibility for preserving, curating, interpreting, and making available to the general public the rest of
our cultural heritage. The difficulty is
that preservation is never for free and
in the case of complex digital objects
it can be very expensive. Indeed, the
cost of migrating a game from one
hardware platform to another—an
activity that might be necessary many
times over the preservation lifespan
of a digital object—might easily cost
as much in time and money as developing the game from scratch. This assumes, of course, that memory organizations have at their disposal people
with the necessary skills to complete
the task; this activity would need to
be carried out on an industrial scale.
These are difficult times, but even if
they were not, there is every reason to
believe finance ministers might find
higher priorities on which to spend
tax dollars than preserving Wallace
& Gromit, Grand Theft Auto, Tomb
Raider, and Pong.
Another significant limiting factor in memory organizations taking
responsibility for preserving digital
material is the series of obstacles resulting from the complicated and
often contradictory legislative landscape under which preservation activity takes place. Of most immediate concern to preservationists is the
national legislation under which they
operate day to day. Different nation-states have their own laws and the understanding of key terms that prevails
in one country often does not conform to that which holds elsewhere.
In the U.K. context, attention needs
to be given to the European Community framework law, which supersedes national legislation, and which,
although meant to be incorporated
into member state legislation, is neither uniformly or completely implemented across the whole of the EU.
Here too, there is some disagreement
over the interpretation of key terms.
Finally, there is non-EU legislation,
and international treaties and obligations such as the Paris Convention for
the Protection of Industrial Property
(1883), and the Berne Convention for
the Protection of Literary and Artistic
Works (1886), to consider.
Key legislation at the Community
˲ Directive 2001/29/EC of May 22,
2001 on the harmonization of certain
aspects of copyright and related rights
in the information society (the “
Information Society Directive”).
˲ Directive 2009/24/EC of April 23,
2009 on the legal protection of computer programs (Codified version
replacing the abrogated Directive
91/250/EEC of May 14, 1991, known as
the “Computer Programs Directive”).
˲Directive 96/9/EC of March 11,