British police have arrested three people for the bizarre crime of allegedly running an unofficial version of Club Penguin, the now-defunct massively multiplayer online game purchased by Disney where players controlled penguins and could waddle around in different mini-games such as a dance contest or ice hockey.
The news highlights the heavy hand that businesses and law enforcement take to copyright infringement, including arresting people over a game that sees players purchase clothing items and igloo enhancements for their multicolored birds.
“CPRewritten is shutting down effective immediately due to a full request by Disney. We have voluntarily given control over the website to the police for them to continue their copyright investigation,” an administrator called “Thorn” for Club Penguin Rewritten, the targeted service, wrote in an announcement on the game’s Discord channel on Wednesday. Club Penguin Rewritten billed itself as a "recreation" of Club Penguin that had more than 10 million accounts and has been around since 2017.
Do you know anything else about this shutdown? Were you one of the people arrested? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on email@example.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This site has been taken over by Operation Creative, Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU),” a banner plastered across the site for Club Penguin Rewritten this week read. The takedown was earlier reported by Torrent Freak.
Detective Constable Daryl Fryatt from the PIPCU told Motherboard in an emailed statement that “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,” the statement continued.
The statement also repeats that the people who were arrested handed over control of Club Penguin Rewritten’s website to the authorities. “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 statement read.
Operation Creative is City of London Police’s long-running series of investigations into piracy and copyright violations, which started in 2013. That year it suspended 40 piracy websites. In 2017, the police force said it prevented “millions of pounds ending up in the hands of criminals.” That same year it said it saw a 64 percent drop in UK advertising on illegal sites in 12 months. The stated goal was to tackle the funding of illegal streaming websites.
The original Club Penguin launched in 2005 by New Horizon Interactive. Disney acquired New Horizon in 2007. The game was hugely popular and a fixture in the childhoods of many internet users in the same sort of way as similar game Habbo Hotel. Club Penguin went on to balloon to 200 million users in 2013.
Disney pulled the plug on Club Penguin in March 2017. As fans of discontinued games often do, various people run their own versions of the game on private servers. Disney forced another Club Penguin clone offline in 2020 after the BBC found that children were being exposed to explicit messages on at least one of the sites, such as penguin avatars asking “WHO WANTS TO SEND ME NUDES.” One man involved in that site was arrested on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children, the BBC added.