How far would you go to catch a Pokemon monster?

31/08/2016

Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm and players are breaking the law and even risking their lives to get ahead.

Pokemon Go has had over 6 million downloads since it was launched in the UK in mid-July. Pokemon Go is a new mobile augmented reality game where players, called trainers, catch virtual monsters situated in the real world. Its co-developers, Nintendo and Niantic, have earned millions from the time of its launch and it has been credited for getting the generation of computer game teenagers more active. However, just as it has some advantages, the game poses numerous disadvantages and legal impediments.

The game interacts with an actual map of your surroundings to help you to find and catch the virtual monsters. As such, it has the element of augmented reality and is thus covered by this law in UK. This therefore raises concerns about privacy and security especially since it is grounded on GPS and geolocation. The game provides a database of the individual’s daily routines and movement. This then raises the question of who has access to such valuable data and who is legally liable if something untoward happens to the player.

Another legal problem that may arise from Pokemon Go relates to virtual location rights. Given that the game is quite new, it is currently not covered by any legislation. However since many of the virtual locations designated as ‘gyms’ or PokeStops are private properties, private businesses, schools and churches the game may well lead to illegal trespassing and potential nuisance claims.

The first legal case against Pokemon developers was filed in the US early this month. The case is the first class action lawsuit that seeks damages for flagrant disregard on the game’s effect on real world locations. The class suit amounts to over £3.7 million and is filed before the California Northern District Court under Marder v. Niantic, Inc. et al (4:16-cv-04300).

It may not be long before cases will also be filed against UK Pokemon Go players. The UK police have already issued warnings against players on trespassing. They have also warned against going to unlit or busy areas where players can be targets of thieves. Other risks that come with playing the game have been identified already from focusing on the mobile device while crossing streets, driving, and even entering police sites with non-police business.

All of these have legal implications but it is not yet apparent who will be held liable given the lack of legislation covering the game.

Some examples of Pokemon Go related incidents so far include:

  • Police had to rescue girls after they were spotted wading through rough sea to catch Pokemon in Hastings
  • Mine rescue experts and firefighters rescued teenage players from the Wiltshire caves when they got lost while searching for monsters
  • Teenage players in London were robbed at gunpoint of their mobile phones
  • A player had to shoot a thief who tried to rob him and his friends in America
  • The worst incident related to the game happened in Guatemala, where an 18-year old player was shot to death while his 17-year old cousin was critically wounded when the house owner mistook them for robbers after they trespassed in his house to catch virtual monsters.

Despite all this the game proves to have a great effect on businesses due to its unprecedented success. Not only are its developers set to profit in the game but so are other businesses who intend to produce, sell and monetise by-products of the game. Retail outlets close to PokeStops or designated as a stop have seen business increase.

So, as the Pokemon Go craze continues, the risks and dangers are numerous. These may be rendered sufficient to limit the liabilities of Nintendo and Niantic in many jurisdictions but each incident should be handled on a case to case basis. The game’s makers should be able to police the locations they designate as gyms and stops or they could fail to identify the trouble that each spot may bring, thereby exposing them to negligent claims.

MORE INFORMATION

If you or your business has been the victim of trespassing or similar please contact our Dispute Resolution Department on 01708 229444  (Upminster or Hornchurch), 01277 211755 (Brentwood office) or 01702 418433 (Leigh-on-Sea).

This article was written by Nadia Fabri, a solicitor and member of the Dispute Resolution department at Pinney Talfourd Solicitors. Nadia is based in our Upminster office. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. The law may have changed since this article was published. This article is based on the law as at September 2016.

31/08/2016

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