August 23, 2016 Practice Points

Pokémon No Go

By Leonard Wills

On July 29, 2016, a New Jersey homeowner filed a request for a class action lawsuit against the defendants Niantic, Inc., The Pokémon Company, and Nintendo Co. Ltd because the defendants placed Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms on private property without the consent of property owners and then profited from the private property invasion. The lawsuit states that the homeowner discovered his property contained Pokémon when at least five strangers knocked on his door and asked to enter his backyard to catch Pokémon.  

Two factors led to the request of a class action lawsuit against the defendants: first, the expensive legal costs of bringing a case against the corporate defendants and, second, the size of the plaintiff’s award might be small if the plaintiffs are successful. Property owners are concerned that these factors would result in an insufficient legal remedy that would not deter the game designers from intruding on their right to privacy. 

Released July 6, 2016, Pokémon GO is an “augmented-reality game.” The game uses the phone’s camera mode and gyroscope to reveal the location of the Pokémon. Niantic programmed and superimposed the Pokémon in real world locations—called Pokéstops or Pokémon gyms—as though the Pokémon exist in the real world. As a player approaches a Pokémon, she uses her smart phone device to catch it.  

In addition to the New Jersey homeowners, a number of locations, including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan, have requested to be removed from Pokémon GO. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., also requested that visitors abstain from playing Pokémon GO in the museum. 

If the class action suit goes to trial, the New Jersey ruling will have significant impact on the gaming industry and the rights of property owners. For instance, the ruling would have implications on the security and safety of hospitals, museums, and private property.  In the meantime, the video game industry, property owners, and others will closely follow how the court handles this case. 

Leonard Wills is with U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C.  

* This article neither reflects the official views of the United States government nor does the United States government endorse this article.

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