¿How to obtain source code from closed company’s privative programs?

15 replies [Last post]
Joined: 07/21/2016

For example, programs from disappeared Ascaron company.

One game development by them:

I did that question because Ascaron company developed games, but went bankrupt in 2009 and I don’t find current right owners over games developed by them.

Note: I think which there is free software which before was privative software, but I don’t know how others get it as free software (I don’t talk about cases where reverse engineering was necessary).


Joined: 07/21/2016

*Correct title without ¿ is:
How to obtain source code from closed company’s privative programs?
->I can't change it once published.

Same forum topic in Spanish:


I am a translator!

Joined: 10/31/2014

>How to obtain source code from closed company’s privative programs?

How to obtain the source code of a proprietary program?
That's the question?

You can't, unless you rob it, which is illegal. It doesn't matter if the company who produced said software has disappeared from the face of the Earth: copyrighted software remains **copyrighted forever**. In 2567 it will still be proprietary unless the owner of the copyright decides to free it and releases it under a free license.

Joined: 12/31/2012

Or if the copyright holder is required to put the work in escrow upon
first publication/release. Such requirement would make sure that the
public domain functional data has source files available when the time
comes for it to fall in public domain.

This approach is suggested at:
[[http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/pirate-party.html]]. Even if you don't
want to read the article just to look for more information on this
approach, I suggest you to read that article entirely because it has
other important points mainly criticizing equal reduction/expiration of
copyright both for free/libre works and for non-free works --- because
this will not provide incentive to keep works free/libre knowing that
they would all fall under public domain in the same period of time as
non-free ones.

- [[https://libreplanet.org/wiki/User:Adfeno]]
- Palestrante e consultor sobre /software/ livre (não confundir com
- "WhatsApp"? Ele não é livre, por isso não uso. Iguais a ele prefiro
GNU Ring, ou Tox. Quer outras formas de contato? Adicione o vCard
que está no endereço acima aos teus contatos.
- Pretende me enviar arquivos .doc, .ppt, .cdr, ou .mp3? OK, eu
aceito, mas não repasso. Entrego apenas em formatos favoráveis ao
/software/ livre. Favor entrar em contato em caso de dúvida.

Joined: 12/10/2013

Copyright doesn't last forever, just a really long time. But copyright expiration won't give you access to source code.

Joined: 09/13/2010

"Copyright doesn't last forever"
While in the U.S. copyright can't last forever, says the Constitution, never-ending retroactive extensions accomplish the same thing.

I'm reminded of this: "Following the enactment of the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998, a coalition of plaintiffs led by publisher Eric Eldred argued that this act and a previous extension of the copyright term in the 1970s had created a de facto "perpetual copyright on the installment plan". This argument was rejected by the US Supreme Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft, which held that there was no limit to how many times the term of copyright may be extended by Congress, so long as it is still a limited term at the time of each extension."
From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_copyright#United_States

I agree with Eldred: The U.S. already has never-ending copyright - it's not listed as being that way in the law in order to work around the Constitution. When it keeps getting retroactively extended over and over without end such that things never actually get elevated into the public domain, one can't say that "copyright doesn't last forever" in the United States in practice.

Joined: 02/17/2016

No, not 'perpetual' -- just 'forever less one day'. ;-)

If I could Turn Back Time


Sonny Bono, from the 1970s pop group and variety show Sonny and Cher, believed that copyright should be extended, if not made perpetual. As a California Congressman he introduced the legislation. However, the politician died in a skiing accident before the legislation came to pass. The tragic irony is that the legislation he sponsored was intended to provide a longer term of copyright protection to benefit the estate of deceased copyright owners. In the consideration of the bill, Sonny's widow, Mary Bono, provided this elegy, which was in part a memorial and in part a polemic:

"Copyright term extension is a very fitting memorial for Sonny. This is not only because of his experience as a pioneer in the music and television industries. The most important reason for me was that he was a legislator who understood the delicate balance of the constitutional interests at stake. Last year he sponsored the term extension bill, H.R. 1621, in conjunction with Sen. Hatch. He was active on intellectual property issues because he truly understood the goals of the Framers of the Constitution: that by maximizing the incentives for original creation, we help expand the public store-house of art, films, music, books and now also, software. It is said that 'it all starts with a song,' and these works have defined our culture to audiences world-wide.

Actually, Sonny wanted the term of copyright protection to last forever. I am informed by staff that such a change would violate the Constitution. I invite all of you to work with me to strengthen our copyright laws in all of the ways available to us. As you know, there is also Jack Valenti's proposal for term to last forever less one day. Perhaps the Committee may look at that next Congress."

Magic Banana

I am a member!

Joined: 07/24/2010

Exactly: only the binary and the data are copyrighted. The copyright will last something like 70 years after the death of their authors (it depends on the country you live in and its future legislation). The source code has never been released/copied (hence it is not copyrighted) and will never be unless their authors decide so.

Joined: 09/13/2010

"The copyright will last something like 70 years after the death"
For now. Then, before it is elevated into the public domain, it'll be retroactively extended to 95 years after death. Then 120. Then 145.... And effectively never be elevated into the public domain because the retroactive extensions will never end.

"The source code has never been released/copied (hence it is not copyrighted)"
On the contrary: In countries that have implemented Berne (and most countries of the world have - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berne_Convention for a map), copyright is automatic. See the note that "the Berne Convention formally mandated several aspects of modern copyright law; it introduced the concept that a copyright exists the moment a work is 'fixed'".

Note that it's talking of the work being "fixed", not the work being "published."

An example of being "fixed" is the source code being saved inside files on the company's computers. It's copyrighted the moment that happens.

There's a good chart here from Cornell showing the copyright duration of "unpublished works" - http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm

While this chart is U.S.-specific, every country that implements Berne (which as you can see is most of the world) would need to have some implementation of the notion that the source code would be copyrighted at the moment it is "fixed." And even if a given country didn't sign on to Berne they may have agreed to the same via other international treaties.

Magic Banana

I am a member!

Joined: 07/24/2010

For now.

That is why I wrote "it depends on the country you live in and its *future* legislation".

See the note that "the Berne Convention formally mandated several aspects of modern copyright law; it introduced the concept that a copyright exists the moment a work is 'fixed'".

Thank you for the correction.

Joined: 07/21/2016

I've read and later I saved the article: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/pirate-party.html
Finally I make clear that doubt.

Thanks to SuperTramp83, ADFENO and Legimet for answer.

Joined: 04/21/2016

I think most answers here missed an important point. You said company disappeared...
So even if the software were no longer copyrighted, were would you get the source code?

If I remember correctly there are more than one free software programs that are no longer aviable because no one has the code anymore..

That is why I don't feel that the suggestion of Adfeno would have changed much.

Some programs just die, whether they are free software or not.

Joined: 05/30/2012

Yeah, but those programs are obscure or unimportant. Less obscure libre programs eventually will be lost (basically if the Internet collapses for one reason or another, or if computers become a thing of the past for one reason or another, or when humanity goes extinct), but until then, most important libre software projects have so many redundancies in their availability that they will persist in one form or another. It would be quite spectacular for all hard drives containing a copy of the Linux source code, for example, to just up and die all at once.

In any case, if there's no source code, then for most programs, that's the end of it. You just have to start from scratch, realistically.

Joined: 07/19/2015

"The company continued trading in the hope that a solution could be found, but the company was ultimately dissolved in July 2009, with Kalypso Media PURCHASING many of the licenses and assets from Ascaron Entertainment, with the notable exception of the licence for Sacred, which was acquired by Deep Silver (Germany)."

Joined: 05/30/2012

I wrote a comment, but forgot to post it somehow, shortly after this topic started. One thing I pointed out: copyright never just up and disappears. When a company dissolves, or a person dies, their copyright goes to someone. That someone could be another company that absorbs the copyright, someone else who bought it, or if all else fails, the government. It never goes into the public domain just because the copyright holder no longer exists. That's a tragedy, of course, but it's how the system works.

Joined: 09/13/2010

Indeed. If a company went bankrupt there may have been a bankruptcy auction in which someone else acquired some or all of the assets. If it's a public company (i.e., with stock) the shareholders might own it. If it's not the Board of Directors may have transferred the assets to someone else's name before shutting down (this may only be documented in the company's internal records.) Getting a lawyer involved to work on cases like this this is probably best.

I've recently learned that a company's assets in the U.K. can pass to the ownership of the Crown if they're not dealt with before the company shuts down. So the fate of the copyright very much depends on what happened to the company, where they were located at, and other factors. But regardless the copyright doesn't just disappear as you say - It needs research to find what happened & where the copyright went to. This can be very difficult to accomplish. This is one of the ways that orphan works are created: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphan_works