As Pokemon Go continues to make its presence felt in meatspace, more and more private property owners are speaking up with their objections about the invisible pocket monster menace.
A couple in Detroit, Michigan has filed suit against developer Niantic, licensor The Pokemon Company, and parent investment company Nintendo to remove in-game hotspots from their neighborhoods, citing local disruption and safety issues. Furthermore, the suit demands that property owners who have become destinations for players receive a cut of the game’s profits.
“Nobody gets sleep anymore,” say plaintiffs Scott and Jayme Dodich in the lawsuit. “How is this acceptable? […] They hang out on our lawns, trample landscaping, look in vehicles […] We don’t feel safe […] I don’t feel safe sitting on our porch.”
Pokemon Go‘s in-game landmarks are for the most part imported from Niantic’s previous game, Ingress, which crowdsourced its in-game hotspots from player submissions. What once were rarely-frequented locations enjoyed by a much smaller playerbase are now being overrun with Pokemon Go‘s many monster trainers, and while many property owners could not be more thrilled for the increased foot traffic — quite a number of businesses have gone out of their way to accommodate and sell to players — others are finding it a grievous imposition, especially in smaller residential areas. Residents of a suburb in Sydney, Australia have attacked masses of players with eggs and waterbombs after they repeatedly crowded a local playground after dark, and a mayor in eastern France has decreed the game banned outright from his entire village. Memorial sites and museums such as the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan have successfully petitioned developer Niantic to create Pokemon ‘dead zones’ on their premises, to deter possible disruptions.
The Dodiches’ lawsuit asserts that Niantic is well aware of the fact many of its in-game landmarks are located on private property, with warnings on the game’s official website as well as in the app itself reminding players not to trespass. The lawsuit’s argument is that, if Niantic knows these locations are on private property, it’s knowingly profiting from those locations, without the permission of the owners.
On the one hand, well, yeah. Pokemon Go would be nothing without the Google Maps and global positioning technologies which undergird its basic gameplay. On the other hand, as mentioned, Ingress‘s in-game hotspots (and thus Pokemon Go‘s) are the result of player submissions, and Niantic could not possibly regulate all of those millions of locations for suitability — plus, it’s pretty clear at this point that Niantic did not at all anticipate that Pokemon Go would generate this much attention. That doesn’t make Niantic less liable at the end of the day, but it also points to a pretty obvious shortsightedness on Niantic’s part, stemming from a tech culture belief that it’s more expedient to comply with takedown requests than ask for permission, which is the company’s current approach. Niantic says it is “moving quickly to review and address all such requests,” of which the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Holocaust Memorial Museum are doubtlessly only among the first of these.
Even if a judge found that Niantic must share its profits with owners of private property on which Pokemon Go‘s hotspots are located (extremely unlikely, by the way), it would be phenomenally difficult to determine just how much those property owners are due. Pokemon Go is free to download, with all revenue generated via in-app purchases for items like additional Pokeballs and lure modules, items which a player might use all throughout their city, not just at one particular Pokestop — so how much of that could be said to ‘belong’ to one individual?
This will be an interesting one to keep an eye on, at any rate!