Disney Gets Fans Who Made Their Own ‘Club Penguin’ Online Game Arrested Over Copyright
from the mine-mine-mine! dept
In the pantheon of aggressive intellectual property bullies, Disney certainly would be one of the companies that would be competing to be Zeus. Disney has simply never seen an opportunity for IP enforcement that it hasn’t acted upon, be it copyright, trademark, or anywhere in between. More to the point for this post, Disney also has this fun mindset that even if it isn’t going to use an IP it owns, it doesn’t like it if anyone else does, either. On the topic of copyright specifically, this would represent a full departure from the purpose of copyright law: to encourage the creation and release of content in exchange for a temporary monopoly on that content.
Remember Club Penguin? That was the name of an online game/community, once independent, which Disney acquired in 2007 and spent the following decade running directly into the ground. The site and service, once beloved by the public, was fully shut down in 2017. Disney attempted to use the Club Penguin name by releasing a mobile app version of Club Penguin called Club Penguin Island. That mobile app was panned by Club Penguin fans and was shut down in 2018, a little over a year after its release.
But fans of the original independent Club Penguin lived on. In 2020, a group of fans released Club Penguin Online, run by fans in a completely unlicensed scenario. Disney fired off DMCA notices and got CPO taken down. To be fair to Disney, many at the time postulated that these actions were due to some extremely gross and illegal predatory behavior that was being conducted upon children on the CPO servers by some users. But to be fair to the law, that isn’t what copyright is for. There are already other laws designed to deal with such predators.
Besides, it’s 2022 and here we are all over again, with Disney working with City of London police not only to get another Club Penguin fan-run site shut down, but to actually get three individuals running it arrested.
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.”
Note the total lack of any accusation of racism, terrorism, or child predatory behavior in that statement. By all accounts, there doesn’t seem to be any indication here that this has anything to do with anything beyond Disney enforcing its copyright for Club Penguin. A copyright that, by the by, it has done absolutely nothing with for several years now.
In other words, Disney isn’t going to use this IP, and the public can’t use it either. So who gets to play the beloved Club Penguin in any form? Nobody, that’s who. Why? Because Disney would rather choose to enforce its copyright on a moldy piece of culture rather than let anyone else enjoy the meal.
And, we shouldn’t let the City of London police off the hook here either. Their actions have been well documented on Techdirt’s pages before. As everyone will remind you, this is not the Metropolitan Police Service in London. This is a law enforcement arm of “the City of London” which is a one-square mile chunk in the middle of London, where that police force long ago decided that it was going to become Hollywood’s personal thugs. They have a long history of overly aggressively attacking the internet, assuming everyone is a criminal. They have literally claimed that 90% of the internet is a risk to society. They’ve been able to inject “this website has been reported to the police” onto websites with no due process. They’ve arrested people on sketchy logic before. They’ve tried to argue that domain registrars are criminally liable for actions done by websites. And they’ve had some of their previous fever dream arrest cases over copyright fall apart.
Basically, they’re the police force that Hollywood has always wanted, and they’re happy to oblige, without ever recognizing that the world isn’t what they think it is, and some fans remembering a community they loved, even one owned by Disney, is not a criminal offense.
Again, this is the opposite of the intention of copyright law. Copyright wasn’t designed to refuse the public access to culture. It was designed to promote more access to culture by the public. It seems that this is yet another example of a design flaw within the law — and it’s sad that the City of London Police are so happy to abuse their power to lock people up to continue to pervert the intention of copyright law.
Filed Under: arrests, city of london police, club penguin, copyright, criminal copyright, fan site, pipcu
Comments on “Disney Gets Fans Who Made Their Own ‘Club Penguin’ Online Game Arrested Over Copyright”
You know that joke that in Heaven the Police are English? They don’t mean LEOs. They just mean that the only police there are Sting, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland.
Not this ol' thing again...
The “City of London Police” is its own special tumor bastard that makes real law enforcement organizations itch horribly.
Sir, sir! I've got a cunning plan.
A couple of years ago, I wrote an anti-ABA parody of Let It Go, and as soon as I can go online at the library (for ReCraptcha access), I’m going to send Dibsney a copy of the lyrics attached to an email requesting (unnecessary as of 2014) permission to publish them (too late!). Thus the House of Mouse will be thrown into the following dilemma: do they say yes and maintain the autism-friendly image they’re currently trying to cultivate, or do they destroy that image by suing me because us peons must never soil the Holy Mickey’s jewels by so much as looking at them, no matter the reason or national legislation. I will further increase Dibsney’s dilemma by revealing the fact that I learnt the original song by repeatedly watching the DVD of Frozen loaned to me by a friend, since (as everyone on Techdirt knows well) watching a movie without first paying for the privilege of doing so is ‘piracy’, the exhaustion of rights principle notwithstanding.
My understanding is that it is a “fan made remake”. That is, the code of the original, which was not available anyway, was not copied.
The look of the artwork, and the gameplay of the games were copied, almost certainly. I don’t know about British copyright law, but on this side of the pond, Disney’s best bet would have been trademark infringement, as “look and feel” aren’t copyrightable aspects.
Web sites are explicitly called out on this issue. Some 30 year old essays claim maybe you can copyright the look and feel, though more recent suits indicate “not so much”.
But again, law in England may be different in this regard.
Design flaw or feature?
I think now is a good time to remind everyone that copyright was first born in England (of all places) out of a system designed exclusively for censorship and control by the state. The English crown initially established the Stationers’ Company as a monopoly over the printing press, while paying them money to act as in-house censors for anything the government didn’t like. Once those desires for state censorship disappeared, the crown was content to allow the monopoly to elapse, much to the dismay of the Stationers.
They begged and pleaded, bringing their family with tears in their eyes, asking the crown to reinstate the monopoly. It was their argument that authors should have the ability to “own” their works that won the Crown over, resulting in the world’s first copyright law: The Statute of Anne. And even today, copyright once in a while shows the true nature of copyright’s origins, as it does here. It’s not to incentivize creativity. It’s not to protect creators and their works. It’s a tool of censorship and control by publishers. Copyright should just be abolished.
But even putting that aside for a minute, the fact this was made criminal at all was astounding to me! At least a cease-and-desist would be bad enough. I was unaware of the City of London Police and their problems until this case. In the United States, the DOJ wouldn’t dare prosecute a case on this; it isn’t a massive, commercial-scale copyright infringement case that meets the definition of criminal copyright infringement here. I’m not even sure how different the copyright law in the UK is, but this is not the kind of case that should be made into a criminal matter.
Here’s the bottom line: Disney’s actions, while problematic, did not surprise me. The City of London Police’s action, however, not only surprised me, but also took copyright to a whole new level of evil that I didn’t think was possible. And yet, here we are!
Let’s refrain from using terms such as “intellectual property” and “owns IP”. “Intellectual property” lumps multiple different laws with different purposes under a single umbrella which tricks people (from everyday citizens to judges) into thinking that people can “own” intangible, nonrival products of the mind and that such “ownership” is beneficial to society. Copyright maximalists take advantage of this confusion to make people think that it is reasonable for some to control how others use and talk about cultural works. “Intellectual” things are not property. People do not “own intellectual property”, but “hold copyrights”, or “hold trademarks”, or “hold patents”, or “guard trade secrets”. (Aside: somehow, trade secrets have found their way into the deceptive amalgamation that is “intellectual property”.)
Here’s an article which goes into depth about problems with the term “intellectual property”.
I suggest not linking to Richard Stallman, as he is a sexual predator. Here’s an article by Cory Doctorow that makes the same points without Stallman’s sordid history. Here’s the money quote:
Re: Re: Re:
Well, the full story about Richard Stallman’s behavior is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman#Resignation_from_MIT_and_FSF
Make your judgment about it as you will.
Re: Re: Re:
Sorry, but I don’t understand what it is that makes Richard Stallman a sexual predator. ‘Defending Jeffrey Epstein before all the facts were known’ absolutely does not equal ‘preyed on Virginia Giuffre’.
“Aside: somehow, trade secrets have found their way into the deceptive amalgamation that is ‘intellectual property’.”
Which I honestly don’t get. What is it about trade secrets that they gained the same status as copyrights and patents be covered by the contract known as an NDA? After all, the whole point of trade secrets is that their details are never published anywhere.
That should read: “patents and can’t be covered by the contract known as an NDA?”
This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.
Obscurity is a good business plan!
It’s perfectly valid plan for copyright owner to stop supporting their fan base and slowly let the product fall into obscurity.
Users simply cannot do anything to this practise, given that it’s copyright owner’s exclusive operations which noone else but copyright owner is allowed to use.
Public is simply not allowed to “continue” some popular product or brand after original authors decide to pull the plug. Copyright owners need to have a right to stop old brands from competing with the newer products coming from the same company. This means many copyright owners will quickly ramp down distribution of old products and replace marketing activities to newer and more money making processes.
It’s simply not acceptable that disney’s star wars animations need to compete against mickey mouse ripoffs that are being refreshed and reactivated by 3rd parties.
Competing against your own success product can be too burdensome operation even for a large company like disney.
Are you missing a sarc mark, or are you simply a schill for corporate rights holders? Enquiring minds want to know.
It’s Tero Pulkinnen, he has a very warped sense of reality. Just flag and move one.
Re: Re: Re:
Unfortunately, I can’t do anything except see the first word and last word options because this site is broken on mobile devices.
Re: Re: Re:2
If it is any consolation, important features like preview and flag are also broken on standard desktop computers.
Re: Re: Re:3
Flag and preview both have been working. I’m not sure why you keep claiming otherwise.
Also, it’s working on mobile.
It’s possible there are some circumstances where things are not working properly, but you would need to give us more details, as it appears to be working in every environment we’re testing.
Re: Re: Re:4 what is broken with preview
Looks like quality trolling to me. He’s too coherent to be genuine, and his positions reek of deliberate contrariness.
Although I was surprised by Chozen’s strong masochism last month so I could be wrong.
“Public is simply not allowed to “continue” some popular product or brand after original authors decide to pull the plug”
No, they absolutely are, and there’s nothing Disney can do about it.
It’ just that they have to wait for the work to enter the public domain before they are able to do so, and Disney have a pathological desire not to honour their end of the bargain that copyright was originally intended to represent.
“It’s simply not acceptable that disney’s star wars animations need to compete against mickey mouse ripoffs that are being refreshed and reactivated by 3rd parties.”!
If they’ve destroyed the Star Wars brand enough that it’s directly competing with the same audience for knock-off Mickey Mouse animations, that’s on them. A shame they didn’t do better work with it to ensure that the decades worth of fanbase building that happened before they bought it did not go to waste.
Re: Re: There's fanbase also with mickey mouse...
There’s also fanbase for mickey mouse. While it’s a brand that is being ramped down, the fanbase still exists.
Star wars has significant fanbase, and disney paid significant amount of green pieces of paper to obtain rights to the brand.
But maybe you should calculate how much money those 3rd parties that are trying to take advantage of the mickey mouse brand actually paid to get access to the brand image. Disney paid significant amount of money for both mickey mouse and star wars brands, so how much you think the 3rd parties invested over years to get access to the valuble brands? (hint: it’s zero),,,
Now that 3rd parties are not contributing to the brand development, they shouldn’t reap the benefits of those brands. Thus 3rd parties have no rights to start using mickey mouse brand in their products. Thus for 3rd parties to reactivate and refresh the mickey mouse brand without permission from disney is significant no-no.
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Spoken like someone who can read a balance sheet, but has no idea of how culture works, or the value of a fanbase.
Re: Re: Re:2
Once again, because it bears repeating: Tero Pulkinnen is a supporter of raping and destroying people in the name of copyright. Like Colette Pelissier, a copyright troll he openly supports. Who just absolutely lost her mind, based on court filings read out by Leonard French.
Re: Re: Re:3
“Once again, because it bears repeating: Tero Pulkinnen”
Heh, I didn’t even click that it was him till you mentioned it, or at least I assume you’re correct from the new username.
That’s almost comforting – it’s not a new person describing ridiculous ideas that don’t make sense in the real world, just the usual guy…
Re: Re: Re:4
He’s been using terop since the site revamp, possibly because he’s forgotten the login credentials to the original tp account. At the very least, he’s made a slight improvement by not appearing as often.
Re: Re: Re:5
Nope, this is the same account, it’s just the the techdirt site removed a feature that I have been using, i.e. the account name conversion from terop to tp nickname. I obviously originally subscribed to techdirt with terop account and renamed the nickname to tp.
Re: Re: Re:6
Call yourself what you want. It won’t stop people from instantly recognizing your stink. Or mocking your attempts to make copyright a religion.
Re: Re: Re:2
Yeah, that’s the real problem. Some people love Mickey and Star Wars. Some people despise Mickey but love SW. Before Disney bought Lucasfilm, there was no reason for anyone to even consider them to be similar fanbases.
If the mere act of buying Star Wars has left Disney financially vulnerable to what random people might to to Mickey, even decades after it should have been in the public domain according to the agreement that Walt made when he created him, that’s on Disney.
Re: Re: Re:3 no requirement to compete against your own products
there’s no requirement in the law for companies to compete against their own work. It’s common practise in the industry that newer products are working worse than some success product 5 years ago, even if they both come from the same company. This means that disney is not required to create better products. They just need to be good enough that the company gets money from the customers.
And 3rd party ripoffs using mickey branding is the same as competing against your own marketing department. This simply isn’t required.
Re: Re: Re:4
There’s no requirement in the law that prevents this, either. People are free to use software that is not Meshpage, and there’s not a thing you can do about it beyond uselessly shaking your fist at the sky.
Re: Re: Re:
“There’s also fanbase for mickey mouse”
There is. However, the fanbases have traditionally been very different things with no direct crossover apart from the fact that kids of a articular age might have been fans of nth at the same time.
“Disney paid significant amount of money for both mickey mouse and star wars brands”
Not really. Disney produced MM inhouse and used it to leverage the massive amount of additional income they have before most Star Wars fans were born, while they have already recouped their investment in the SW brand.
The amount paid into something does not reflect its value, and if you’re doing so badly that someone making a knockoff of something that would have been public domain before Star Wars existed if Disney hadn’t rewritten the laws, let alone relevant when they bought it 40 years later, is stopping them making money, then they deserve that.
“Thus for 3rd parties to reactivate and refresh the mickey mouse brand without permission from disney is significant no-no.”
True, but the comment wasn’t about whether Disney should make money from Mickey. It was about whether or not knockoff Mickey merch stops them making Star Wars money. Which is still a stilly comment.
Re: Re: Re:2 competition is harsh...
One of the main reasons why copyright infringement is illegal, is because it puts companies in unfair position, i.e. they spent the effort to do good work, but then copyright infringers force the company to compete against their own work. Basically company needs to do the work 3 times, 1st time when creating the product, 2nd time when marketing/selling the product to customers, and 3rd time when competing against pirates/their own work being published by 3rd parties.
Re: Re: Re:3
Hey, didn’t you rip off Scott Cawthon and lie about having the proper licensing for the character model you stole?
Re: Re: Re:4 Competition...
You should blame sketchfab for any of your imaginary copyright issues. They’re the ones licensing the material without permission, according to your own theory.
Re: Re: Re:5
Okay but you still lifted that shit from them so you still stole from Scott Cawthon, you thief.
Re: Re: Re:6
You’re simply unable to bring me down without hurting some useful web properties called sketchfab. This means you either need to stop your vendetta against me, or you have to kill something useful from the web. Those are the only alternatives after you have failed to identify how the copyright failure can happen without active participation from sketchfab web site. Killing sketchfab is clearly censorship and against your beliefs.
Re: Re: Re:7
Who said anything about Sketchfab? Besides: If they infringed, so did you; if they didn’t infringe, you still infringed. You still ripped off Scott Cawthon, you dirty fuckin’ thief.
Re: Re: Re:
Well, no, Disney pretty much started with the mouse. Disney paid significant money to purchase congress critters who enacted the copyright term extension act.
“If [Disney have] destroyed the Star Wars brand enough that knock-off Mickey Mouse animations are directly competing with the same audience for it, that’s on them.”
FTFY. YW. 🙂
So the city london police is basically trying to turn people into criminals
A digital version of this: https://www.techdirt.com/2008/04/11/cities-caught-illegally-tampering-with-traffic-lights-to-increase-revenue-of-red-light-cameras/ on the part they tried to criminalize someone and found out the person was innocient so the case falls apart.
More Disney trickery? Getting another copyright extension
“Thank you sir! Please give me another!”
aka winning by losing.
I thought Disney’s string of perpetual copyright extensions was finally coming to an end. On the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Sony Bono 20-year extension a couple of years back, it seemed like no one had the effrontery to try again.
But Disney may have found a way after all, by jerking the chain of Republican culture warriors.
With a little luck, naive liberals, progressives, and libertarians can be convinced that extending Disney copyrights (and everyone else’s?) is indispensable to defend First Amendment values from Trumpish bullying.
My impression is that even without this proposed extension, Disney can use trademark law to protect their brand from unethical competitors.
‘Disney can use trademark law to protect their brand from unethical competitors.’
Like Frederick Warne & Co. have? Only that company is producing Peter Rabbit et al. merchandise despite the original works being in the Public Domain. If anyone’s unethical, it’s the companies using trademarks to extend their monopolies on works out of copyright. When’s the last time you read, heard, or watched anything based on a fairytale under the original title? You want to know why you never have? Inappropriate wordmarks filed by Dibsney.
And this just goes to show why copyright needs to be extended by another 50 years.
Some sites Disney hasn't acted upon
“Disney has simply never seen an opportunity for IP enforcement that it hasn’t acted upon”
Both TurboSquid and RenderHub sell digital models with the full copyrighted designs and full copyrighted names from Disney and Star Wars. These sites have been selling these kinds of models for years but Disney doesn’t seem to have any interest in going after them.
….oh my god
I just realised a horrifying thing about these fan servers
They weren’t doing coins for change, were they?