So, Nintendo invented a mobile game where players wander around outside with their faces buried in their phones, often in unfamiliar surroundings, and, quite possibly on private property.
Hey, what could go wrong?
Being in an industry tightly tied in with the practice of law, Blueprint writ large and yours truly writ not quite as large have taken literally minutes out of our busy day to look at the intersectionality of Pokemon Go and the law. A few of the legal implications:
Wither the Pokemon Goer? Nintendo has control over where a so-called Pokestop is located. It has been reported that some of them show up in courthouse hallways. A courthouse is, strictly speaking a public place, meaning that it’s unlikely that a player could be held liable for the tort of trespass over private property. However, it’s also emphatically not a place to play games, at least of the figurative variety. But is is a place to play literal games? Courthouses often have metal detectors outside and are the scenes of unrest, especially criminal courthouses. Who hasn’t seen videos of a defendant rushing the judge or a victim’s family member rushing the defendant? A judge may hold someone in contempt of court for literally anything, and these players wandering the courthouse hallways should probably be careful at least.
In what I’d describe as an appalling turn of events, Pokemon Go players have turned up at the National Holocaust Museum and at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Let me repeat: Auschwitz. The lack of decency on the part of Nintendo and players for disrupting the hallowed grounds of these two places, especially Auschwitz, is horrifying, regardless of the bare legal implications. The Holocaust Museum is in the U.S., anyway, and it requires admission. If Pokemon Go players are gaining admission for a purpose other than the museum’s intended purpose, is that trespass? It will be interesting to see if Nintendo or users are held liable for such disruptions in the future.
Also, even if Pokestops are not lying on private property, should Nintendo be held liable for people who trespass across private property to get to a Pokestop? Or just the player? Both? Neither? The lawsuits are sure to roll in eventually, and we’ll see then.
The physical injury that must’ve been contemplated by Nintendo’s lawyers has already begun. Two players fell of a cliff playing the game, having missed a sign near the cliff that said something to the effect of, “Hey, there’s a cliff over there.” Two other players were shot at while playing close to a house where the owner had a gun. The owner heard one say, “Did you get anything?” It was 1:30 a.m. Understandably, the owner was worried.
Where does responsibility for injury lie? Are the idiots who fell off a cliff entitled to compensation from Nintendo? Was Nintendo negligent or even worse in creating the game or putting players close to a cliff? When will someone die playing Pokemon Go? If the players who were shot at had been hit or killed, would the owner face responsibility? Civil? Criminal? Could Nintendo executives or game designers or the App Store be on the hook for criminally negligent homicide? The mind reels, and, if and when the first Pokemon Go-related death occurs, we may see the wheels of justice begin to turn in new and unpredictable ways.
This might be the most interesting, if least fraught with danger, legal consideration of Pokemon Go. Pokestops have ended up on private property open to the public. In fact, I was told that the Blueprint office, which occupies space at a popular outdoor mall in Los Angeles, is a Pokestop. If a Pikachu sits on that property, can the mall ownership claim some right to the profits Nintendo garners from it? Is the Pokemon, which only really exists in cyberspace, actually on the property? Who knows, but it might be fun to sue and find out.
Got other Pokemon legal concerns? Put your comments in the Pokebox below.