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Abandonware definition

Abandonware is software that has been abandoned by its copyright holders, typically because the latter ceased to exist or shifted their focus to other titles. Abandonware products are unavailable for sale through legal means and have no official support channels.

Abandonware first arose and is still most frequently brought up in the context of video games. Before the advent of online distributors like GOG and Steam, many video games were only commercially available for a limited time — once the purchase window was gone, it was next-to-impossible to find retail copies of the game. Abandonware sites were set up by fans to keep the game in circulation, leading to the cult status of several early releases.

See also: digital piracy, software piracy, softlifting, electronic software distribution

Abandonware and copyright

Abandonware products are usually still covered by copyright, so distributing them is a form of digital piracy. However, as copyright enforcement relies on the holder bringing up a claim, abandonware websites and distributors are very rarely prosecuted — in some cases, enforcement may even be impossible due to ongoing disputes between developers and publishers.

Some former developers may even encourage the distribution of their abandonware titles to promote a sequel or support the fanbase.