Along with 'legitimate' means of preservation, there's the whole specter of abandonware, which Les Chapelle takes a look at over at the Escapist.
Chapelle takes a look at the legal issues, but the piece is more concerned with the people who love these forgotten games; it's a fun essay on a curious bit of gaming culture. On the issue of legality, Chapelle points out that most of the websites are more than happy to comply with cease and desist orders:
And on the occasions when publishers do ask for material to be taken down, abandonware websites have a steady track record of complying with removal requests. Earlier this summer, when Valve's Steam service began offering the full X-COM series for download, Abandonia pulled all related downloads the day after Steam's went live. Latis recalls that when Sierra produced Sierra Classics offering Police Quest and King's Quest among others, those links were simply removed from XTC.
"Most webmasters I know are serious down-to-retro people, heeding removal requests from their respective companies," Bakkelun says. He adds that in some cases webmasters may contact the intellectual property holders themselves to let them know they are hosting the files, and offer to remove them immediately if the games ever move away from abandonware status.
In many cases, the decision for a company to re-release its older titles is met with praise by the abandonware community rather than annoyance at losing a popular download. Indeed, they take an almost cheerful view of it, finding new games to upload and take their place.
Having spent many an hour gleefully hunting for re-releases of old films, I'd love the same opportunity for more of those classic titles I remember from younger days. Here's hoping more publishers catch on to the desire for relative antiquities.
The Vintage Game Preservation Society [The Escapist]