Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Legal Issues with Pokemon Go

Pokémon GO is an augmented reality video game that lets players catch digital monsters that appear on an in-game map of the surrounding area. You might have heard about this recent unpublished study, which found that drivers playing the game were responsible for a dramatic increase in automobile accidents. This is just one example of the real-word consequences surrounding the game. While the game is not the cultural phenomenon that it was when it came out in July 2016, it is still one of the top grossing according to Google Play and sites like App Annie. The game's popularity and unique connection between game play and a player's surroundings have led to a number of legal issues, which this post will briefly discuss.

Some of the legal issues surrounding the app are inherent in the game's design. Pokémon appear in a variety of locations, some of which are located on private property. There were several reports of players trespassing onto private property or playing in parks after they had been closed to the public hoping to find rare monsters. People noted many of these unique legal issues from the moment the game released. You can read some lawyers' thoughts in the American Bar Association Journal and hear a detailed analysis of the game and many of these issues in this Lawyer 2 Lawyer podcast

These legal issues aren't just of academic interest. A number of cases have emerged involving the app. For instance, some residents in St. Clair Shores were so upset about the game's effect on their community that they filed a class action lawsuit against Niantic, Nintendo, and Pokémon Co. seeking monetary damages and a ban on Pokemon in the park. You can read more about the lawsuit in this article from the Chicago Tribune.

Private parties aren't the only people who have issues with the application. In January 2017, the Milwaukee County parks service introduced an ordinance that required developers of augmented reality games like Pokemon Go to obtain a permit before including parks as a point of interest within the game. You can find that ordinance, Resolution 16-637, here. Candy Lab AR, a company that produces another augmented reality game, filed a suit against the city, alleging that video games were protected by the First Amendment and the county ordinance infringed on game developers' rights to free speech. This claim was based on the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association564 U.S. 786 (2011) that video games are protected under the First Amendment. You can read Candy Lab's complaint here. In July, Judge J.P. Stadtmueller issued a preliminary injunction on the ordinance, treating it as a time, place and manner restriction, as first outlined in Cox v. New Hampshire312 U.S. 569 (1941). You can read Judge Stadtmueller's order here.

Pokémon Go's legal issues are not limited to people who don't play the game. In July of 2016, the game hosted an event in Chicago called Pokémon GO Fest. The goal of the festival was to get thousands of players in one area playing the game together. The event did not go as planned, overwhelming the game's servers and making it unplayable at the event. Niantic offered thousands of fans a refund, but one fan found this compensation inadequate and filed a class action law suit against Niantic. You can see the court filing here, and read more about the event and lawsuit at Polygon.

As you can see, new games and technologies like Pokémon GO bring up a number of interesting legal questions. While it would be impossible to catch 'em all within a single blog post, these sort of fun topics can also open entirely new veins of legal research.

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