“Our world is breaking down around us …” a Reddit user posted this morning in r/ClubPenguinRewritten, documenting how the fan-driven, probably illegal remake of Club Penguin was slowly dwindling before their eyes. Rumors swirled among players, conjecturing about a legal conflict with Disney and an investigation by the City of London Police as elements of the virtual world disappeared in real time, while players sent their final, frantic messages through their colorful penguin avatars.
Over 140,000 users were members of a Discord server for the game until today, when every message on the Discord disappeared. The game’s website now shows a notice that it was seized by the City of London police.
In 2007, Disney purchased Club Penguin — the children’s RPG that served as my first introduction to online fandom — for a whopping $700 million. Even then, as a child with little context about tech industry acquisitions, the purchase seemed foreboding (at least my friends thought so on the Miniclip forums, where I fraudulently claimed to be 13). But eventually, those of us who were dedicated fans of virtual sledding games and dance parties grew out of it, and after once boasting 200 million users, the game was shut down due to lack of interest in 2017. Disney tried to shuttle remaining players to a new mobile game called Club Penguin Island, but it only lasted for a year.
But ever since the end of Club Penguin — when the iceberg finally tipped in a strangely emotional moment — there have always been remakes out there for nostalgic adults to relive their days of collecting puffles, dancing in the pizza shop and speed-running bans.
As Meta desperately tries to get people to play “Horizon Worlds” and embrace its interpretation of the metaverse, the fan-made remake of Club Penguin remained popular. Even the indie musician Soccer Mommy, who once opened for a Bernie Sanders rally, played a gig in Club Penguin Rewritten in April 2020.
Only one message on the Discord remains, posted early this morning by an admin:
“CPRewritten is shutting down effective immediately due to a full request by Disney,” the admin said. “We have voluntarily given control over the website to the police for them to continue their copyright investigation.”
In an emailed statement to TechCrunch, Detective Constable Daryl Fryatt from the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) at City of London Police said:
“Following a complaint under copyright law, PIPCU have seized a gaming website as part of an ongoing investigation into the site.
Three people were arrested on April 12 on suspicion of distributing materials infringing copyright and searches were carried out.
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.”
This isn’t the first time that Disney has been litigious over this IP that it no longer uses. In 2020, Disney shut down “Club Penguin Online,” another copy of the game that acquired over a million new players during the pandemic, the BBC reported. Apparently, the site was littered with racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and sexual messages, and one man involved in the site was arrested for suspicion that he possessed child pornography.
Per Club Penguin Rewritten’s legal disclaimer on its website, updated in April 2020 and accessed via the Wayback Machine, the game prohibited harassment and obscene or bigoted language. It’s possible that Disney could have sought to shut down Club Penguin Rewritten because the site generated ad revenue. But according to an old tweet from 2017, Club Penguin Rewritten used the ad money to pay for the web servers then donated the rest. It’s unclear how long this policy remained in place. Some users in a Reddit thread noted that the game had rolled out a feature that allowed players to watch an ad in exchange for an in-game gift, which also could have set off Mickey Mouse’s alarm bells.
Regardless, IP theft is IP theft. But also, a fun penguin game is a fun penguin game. Sigh.
Update, 9:00 AM ET, 4/14/22 with comment from the London police.