OK, see here's the deal.
The RPS author mentions 20 years. I'm assuming it's because 20 years is an arbitrary-ish figure he settled on.
It's 2014, so 20 years ago is 1994.
Really what he was getting at originally was that it was somewhat bizarre that computer games from the 1980's are still considered copyrighted and illegal to distribute, even if the original developers, publishers, etc. have long since gone defunct.
So I really think the author should have said 25 years or something like that but just for the sake of discussion let's stick with 20.
The game Super Mario Bros. from Nintendo was released in 1985. That's almost thirty years ago. So, by a blanket application of his proposition, SMB would have gone PD back in 2005. Anyone could do anything they wanted with the game and there would be nothing Nintendo could do about it.
But this smacks of unfair for one reason - Nintendo is still around. And they're still selling SMB. You can get it on Virtual Console on Wii, Wii U and 3DS.
The author isn't necessarily proposing that a developer should only get to make money off of his or her creation for 20 years, or at least that's not how I'm interpreting it.
Let's take another example - there's a critically acclaimed game called No One Lives Forever, a somewhat wacky spy caper with a female protagonist that has a parody of James Bond in the 60's thing happening. The game was developed by Monolith and published by Fox Interactive. Fox got bought by Activision, Activision merged with Blizzard, and Monolith got bought by Warner Bros. Long story short, no one can release the game on GOG because no one knows who owns it. But someone does, in theory. However it will be a long time before anyone sorts it out because there is, in theory, not enough money for anyone to care.
By the way copyright works today, NOLF will be illegal to distribute until 2090. Who knows what will happen by then? If we lived in a perfect world where piracy and copyright infringement didn't exist, then the only places NOLF would exist are on the hard drives of Monolith and the discs of whoever bought the game - what are the odds either would be functional in 2090?
But a dirty little secret is you can go download NOLF right now on torrent sites. Anyone can download it. Thanks to copyright infringement it will never truly go away.
This happens in other sectors, too. There's about a hundred of the original Dr. Who episodes from the 1960's or so which are lost because the BBC taped over them. I'm not kidding, they seriously never thought that anyone would want to watch them in the future. But every so often a few turn up - they put nine episodes on iTunes a few months ago - all because someone somewhere found some tape they were either supposed to return to the BBC, or someone taped them and didn't realize they still had them.
So going back to SMB, Nintendo is actually sort of doing the right thing here. Sure, they're basically selling a ROM image and an emulator, and the only people who get to play SMB are the ones who paid for it, but the point is they can get it, play it, and pay for it. It's available.
But if Nintendo had closed up shop in 1995 or something would it really benefit anyone to have to wait until 2075 to be able to play SMB again in our piracy-does-not-exist fantasy land?
GeorgeB3DR is getting upset about this because he is still selling those old games and still making a living off of it. The hard-and-fast 20 year proposal would fuck him over. But the point is he's still selling them.
Let's say that we had a different rule - if your game hasn't been available for ten years for sale it goes PD. GeorgeB3DR would be fine. Nintendo would be fine. And we could distribute NOLF all we want.
Of course, under this rule it's possible that ActiVendiFoxoLith would get their shit together and hash out who owns what and release it for sale on GOG or something. Sure, we wouldn't be able to just distribute NOLF for free that way, but isn't it better that we have a nice, convenient and (likely) cheap option to obtain the games now?
Like that release in December of the Beatles 1963 recordings. If EMI or whoever hadn't released those for sale then they'd be PD this year. But aren't we better off with those out there for sale than potentially lost forever or stuck in bootleg traders hell? Yes there's some people upset that they were *this close* to having PD Beatles stuff, but they'll get their wish in 20 years, in the meantime you can just buy them on your phone. Isn't that better overall?