Club Penguin is a relic of a bygone era of the internet, back when Flash games ruled the world. It has persisted despite neglect and abandonment from Disney, which acquired the game in 2007 and shut it down in 2017. Fan-run servers have preserved a classic version of the game and continued to operate without Disney’s permission, largely without interference. Now the largest of those unauthorized versions of the game, Club Penguin Online, has been shut down, the result of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice issued by the Walt Disney Company last week, according to the BBC. Disney took action following reports that the unauthorized game server had become a haven for racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and sexual messages. One man involved in the server's operation has also been arrested for allegedly possessing child pornography.
Club Penguin Online is one of two major fan-operated rebirths of the classic browser-based multiplayer online game that, at its peak, had as many as 330 million users. The other, Club Penguin Rewritten, has also received a takedown request from Disney, according to the nonprofit Lumen Database. Despite the request, which claims that the game "contains infringing copyrighted content," Club Penguin Rewritten remains online for the time being. It has largely avoided the same accusations of abusive and harmful content that have plagued Club Penguin Online. In a blog post that is no longer available, Club Penguin Online's operators wrote that the game would no longer be running “after May 2020” because of the copyright claim from Disney. The website for Club Penguin Online has gone offline entirely.
“Child safety is a top priority for the Walt Disney Company and we are appalled by the allegations of criminal activity and abhorrent behaviour on this unauthorised website that is illegally using the Club Penguin brand and characters for its own purposes,” Disney told the BBC. “We continue to enforce our rights against this, and other, unauthorised uses of the Club Penguin game.” Mic has reached out to Disney for comment, and will update this post if we receive a response.
The fan-operated versions of the classic game had been gaining popularity in recent months as millions of people in quarantine took the opportunity to return to Club Penguin for a nostalgia fix. That influx of new activity resulted in increased scrutiny on the game worlds, which are ostensibly for children. A BBC investigation found that the platform had been inundated with inappropriate content. Content filters had been disabled, allowing users to use homophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist language. Users were also engaging in "penguin e-sex" and sending sexually explicit messages to one another. Moderators for the titles were nowhere to be found, allowing the inappropriate content to run rampant.
While the discovery may have been shocking to many, rumors of inappropriate content and accusations against the operators of the unauthorized versions of Club Penguin have been floating around online essentially since the servers started. Users have accused the Club Penguin Online owners of using the platform to solicit children for explicit photographs. According to a Change.org petition that has amassed more than 13,000 signatures, the owner of the site is accused of giving children moderator or administrator positions in exchange for nude photos. Screenshots have been shared on Reddit allegedly showing the operator soliciting for inappropriate photos. He has also been accused of "hacking and other malicious activities" that he allegedly uses to silence dissenters. The BBC reported that at least one person involved in Club Penguin Online has been arrested for possessing indecent images of children.