Pokémon GOTM, an augmented-reality game played on mobile devices, raises some interesting legal issues. This blog post surely does not catch them all. Submit your findings in comments on the library’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
A distracted driver in Auburn, New York was injured when he crashed his car into a tree while playing Pokémon GOTM. The game warns players not to play while driving. Going over a certain speed will cause gameplay to stop until the “I’m A Passenger” button is clicked.
Brian Wassom argues in a blog post that game elements potentially create “attractive nuisances.” An attractive nuisance, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, “foreseeably lures children to trespass” onto private property involving dangerous conditions.
While Pokémon GOTM does offer “lure modules” for sale, the PokéStop locations where such modules may be placed are (supposed to be) publicly accessible, and the game provides generalized warnings to avoid dangerous areas and not to trespass.
Nuisance or Trespass
Jeffrey Marder, a resident of New Jersey, brought a federal lawsuit against Niantic, the company that created the Pokémon GOTM mobile app. Mr. Marder asked the court to find that the placement of PokéStops and Gyms near his property was a nuisance or a trespass. At least five people had knocked on his door to ask if they could enter his backyard in order to catch Pokémon.
The Marder lawsuit also makes a claim in contract. Mr. Marder alleges that Niantic is unjustly enriched when Pokémon GOTM players’ gaming experience is enhanced by congregating around PokéStops and Gyms on private property, to which Niantic never requested permission for access.
Deceptive or Unconscionable Terms
Breach of Contract
The terms of the Google Play store require app developers to support their products. However, support requests sent to Niantic allegedly go to an unmonitored email account, and some users are reporting this to Google as a breach of these terms.
Police in O’Fallon, Missouri discovered that four people had placed a lure module on a PokéStop in order to attract potential victims to the area. Those who had placed the lure were allegedly waiting to rob mobile game players.
A teenager in Wyoming was looking for Pokémon near a river, and unfortunately discovered a human body that detectives said had been dead for less than 24 hours. Authorities were still investigating at the time the news was published.
Right to Privacy
The Electronic Privacy Information Center has written to the Federal Trade Commission requesting an investigation because Pokémon GOTM “raises complex and novel privacy issues” involving alleged over-collection of user data. Senator Franken of Minnesota sent a letter to Niantic with similar concerns.
Canada-US Border Crossing
Two Canadian siblings accidentally crossed from Alberta into Montana because they were so focused on playing Pokémon GOTM, they lost track of where they were. Their mother had to pick them up from Border Patrol.
Banned in Saudi Arabia
A 2001 religious edict forbidding Pokémon, which was then played only with cards, was renewed and applied to the Pokémon GOTM mobile app. Niantic has not officially released the app in the Middle East as of this writing, although some users in the region may have been able to download it, for example while travelling outside the region.