Created by New Horizon Interactive, massively multiplayer online game (MMO) Club Penguin first opened to the public in 2005.
Its Antarctic-themed virtual world, inhabited by players’ penguin avatars, proved incredibly popular and two years later boasted 30 million users.
This success attracted the attention of Disney and in 2007, New Horizon was scooped up for $350 million. Ten years later, Disney pulled the plug in favor of successor Club Penguin Island, which in turn was shut down late 2018.
In the previous year, however, one of many third-party Club Penguin servers had already gained significant traction.
In a matter of months, Club Penguin Rewritten had a million users and, after briefly shutting itself down in 2018, grew to reach an estimated eight million players late 2020. This appeared to upset Disney.
Copyright Troubles Begin
In April 2020, Disney filed a copyright complaint with Google, stating that Club Penguin Rewritten’s domain (cprewritten.net) not only infringed its rights in artwork but also its trademarks. A month later Disney filed a second complaint, informing Google that Club Penguin Rewritten was an “unauthorized version of the Club Penguin game” containing “infringing copyrighted content including but not limited to software and artwork.”
According to Google records, no action was taken in response to either complaint (1,2) but events this week show that Disney hadn’t forgotten about the popular online game.
UK Police Shut Down The Game
The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) is a department of the City of London Police. It has been sending warnings to pirate sites and other intellectual property-infringing services on behalf of rightsholders for years. It claims to have shut down thousands of domains and can now add one more to the list.
This week, visitors to Club Penguin Rewritten’s main domain were greeted by an ominous banner stating that the site had been taken over by Operation Creative, an initiative carried out by PIPCU in conjunction with rightsholders.
On the game’s official Discord channel, staff confirmed the shutdown, citing a “full request” by Disney. “We have voluntarily given control over the website to the police for them to continue their copyright investigation,” they added.
Three People Arrested
PIPCU is known for backing up its shutdowns with arrests of the most egregious pirates but at least in some cases, opportunities were given to shut down voluntarily. Whether that was the case with Club Penguin Rewritten is unknown but a statement from PIPCU obtained by Club Penguin Mountains, a site dedicated to all things Club Penguin Rewritten, reveals that three people were indeed detained.
“Three people were arrested on April 12 on suspicion of distributing materials infringing copyright and searches were carried out,” PIPCU’s statement reads.
“They have been released under investigation and to aid with the police investigation, they agreed to sign over the website to the control of PIPCU.”
The involvement of PIPCU strongly suggests that the individuals are located in the UK but as data from Cloudflare shows, Club Penguin Rewritten was only marginally active in the UK market, with the vast majority of its traffic coming from the United States.
The next steps and their timing are difficult to predict. Earlier PIPCU arrests have turned into full-blown criminal cases and hefty prison sentences but others have failed too.
In any event, the process faced by Club Penguin Rewritten’s operators is unlikely to be a short one. Cases can sometimes take years to reach court, if they get there at all.