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.