Lance Priebe on The Ethics & Legality of Private Servers

Welcome to the first Mountains Monday post! As it’s the first Monday of the month, this post is going to contain an interview, and the topic is The Ethics of Private Servers. You’ll see why that’s crossed out soon!

I’d like to give a big thank you to Lance Priebe, who you may know as rsnail (the creator of Club Penguin), for taking some time to discuss this topic with me. It’s a completely fascinating one, in which we explore everything from the legality to the morality of servers such as Club Penguin Rewritten.

A brief context for those who aren’t aware: even before the official Club Penguin closed, many “private” servers existed. These are unofficial games run by fans, but based on that official game. The example which we’re all familiar with is Club Penguin Rewritten.

rsnail caused some controversy recently when he expressed support for criminally charging private servers. He cited that Disney had been busy merging for Fox, but that a Digital Media Team would inevitably be appointed, after which there would be a crackdown on private servers.

The legal justification for Club Penguin Rewritten, and indeed the one which most private servers confide in, is that these servers are an “educational instance”. This is found on the Play page too, which mentions 17 U.S. Code § 107.

Lance, however, stated that he believes that is not adequate enough for servers to operate, and that private servers are illegal.

Without a license to operate the server, I believe these servers are illegal. Many young developers believe they can use copyrighted material under the “Fair Use Act”. You may want to seek legal counsel and read the law very carefully. Please remember Disney currently owns all the rights to Club Penguin.

I should clarify now that this does not mean you will be in legal trouble for playing a private server, but is in reference to whether the administrators are operating legally.

I believe it is important to have permission to operate and run a world like Club Penguin.

No private server currently has permission from Disney.

This became even more controversial on November 3rd 2019, when the Club Penguin Rewritten team opened up donations, under the questionable pretence of being for running the servers.

One of the four administrators referred to the donations as “dirty scamming money”.

But even the phrase “private server” seems a bit odd. Indeed, this is where the issues stem from.

A private server that helps young developers learn how to create worlds is great. But a server with over 5 million players and promoted on public channels is not very “private”.

The key word in Private servers is “private”. My concern is with servers that are “public”.

It is possible to set up a genuine private (also known as a localhost) server which you can only play on locally using your computer. This is not the case with the servers which we know – we are all able to play on them, and as such, they are hardly very private.

Still relating to law, though not revolving around existence, is the question of morality. Is it right that teenagers and young adults are in control of a game with millions of accounts, primarily those created by minors? There are two concerns:

  1. Database breaches/actual data (of which there has been at least one already with Club Penguin Rewritten)
  2. Keeping people safe in-game

My second [concern] is the safety of children online. The team at Club Penguin worked very hard to keep kids safe online. This was and continues to be our highest value. A number of countries including the United States has laws and requirements for operators of websites or online services directed at children under the age of 13. The fines for violating these requirements can be very expensive.

It is worth noting that Club Penguin Rewritten does have a team of moderators, but other servers struggle with maintaining safety in-game, and that’s a problem, particularly when games target themselves as the “rebirth” of Club Penguin.

These have only been echoed by countless Google searches now showing unofficial content before official content, and there is a genuine risk of a damage to the game’s legacy. It’s quite paradoxical considering the intention is to continue it, but is there a better way? Lance encourages urging Disney to bring it back.

I have always appreciated the Club Penguin fans and I love that they want to keep it alive. I want to encourage you to do the right thing. Continue to ask Disney to bring it back and let’s continue to make the internet a safe place for everyone to explore.

However, that can certainly seem implausible too. So where do private servers sit? Is there an educational purpose for them?

Lance once said that he “learned how to make virtual worlds by running a private server”, and I wondered if it was unfair to now be so critical of them.

Nope [it isn’t unfair]. You’re always welcome to create your own private server or prototype for learning. The issue is when you make your game public. Yes, I ran my own UO private server. The total number of players was one. (Me). Then I started creating Club Penguin and making Club Penguin the public server.

I continue to encourage young developers to use what they have learned and begin to create their own worlds.

I asked Lance how he’d like to see servers adapt to the criticisms of them to make them safer and more ethical.

I would like to see creators making their own servers with their own new and original characters and worlds.

Lance has a really interesting (and in a way, first-hand) perspective on this topic, and I’ve been fascinated to hear it. In regards to the initial context for the controversy, I should add that it was caused regarding servers for Box Critters (Lance’s new project).

He confirmed that he intended to shut down “private” servers for his new game.

A critter!

In my opinion, whilst there are genuine concerns about Club Penguin Rewritten, it remains the safest unofficial server out there and to me, it seems the most realistic way of being able to continue the game’s legacy.

Private servers are not good or bad. They are just tools. It’s what developers decide to do with them. I really look forward to seeing new worlds and characters that inspire another generation.

I hope that you enjoyed this first interview! I’d like to give a massive thank you to rsnail for his time and thoughts, it’s greatly appreciated!


I found this topic to be a fascinating one to start with, and I hope for to be able to discuss a huge variety of things related to in-game and not – and some more light-hearted than this! But I hope you enjoyed this different style of post, thank you for reading!

Waddle on!

-Torres 126