Lawsuit: I choose you!

by Kevin Peek

Nearly two decades ago, I dreamed of living in the world of Pokemon. Just like in the wildly popular show and Game Boy game, I would have received my Pokemon license at the age of 10 and began my journey to become a Pokemon master. Of course, now that I’m older, the thought of sending a 10-year-old out into the woods to capture strange and dangerous creatures seems slightly irresponsible. Even so, the Pokemon brand has grown since it was introduced to the world in 1996.

Enter “Pokemon Go.”

It has been three months since the record-breaking, creature-filled application began its release rollout across the world. With the app now available in over 65 countries, smartphone users ranging from young kids to nostalgic adults (including yours truly) have fallen under the spell of the Pokemon universe.

The app utilizes augmented reality—technology that superimposes a computer-generated image into the real world—so when you look at your wall through your screen, you will see a Pikachu waving at you as if it was actually there. Players must go to different parts of their neighborhoods, towns and even to different countries to “catch them all.” Further, players are given eggs that hatch into Pokemon after a player travels a certain distance, which is tracked using a combination of the smartphone’s GPS and pedometer.

“Pokemon Go” is the brainchild of Niantic, formerly a Google company, and Nintendo, allied with the Pokemon Company (partially owned by Nintendo). Reports indicate that the companies made approximately $14 million in the first week of the app’s existence. Some companies estimate that the app will potentially bring in $18 billion in revenue this year.

While there are millions of satisfied users, there are plenty of people who are not so excited about the app’s popularity – and that means that you should be careful on your quest, to be the very best, like no one ever was.

Lawsuits have been filed against the creators for a variety of reasons. One lawsuit complains of “Pokestops” and “Gyms” (designated points where players can get items and battle) that happened to land on residential properties. As a result, players have trespassed and trampled on landscaping. The complaint further states that the “Pokemon Go” companies have made millions of dollars while ruining the quality of life for others.

A theory of law being used to sue Niantic and Nintendo is the theory of “attractive nuisance.” This doctrine states that if an object on a piece of land is likely to attract children, then the landowner can be held liable for injuries to those children caused by the object, even if the children are trespassing. For example, if a child hunting a virtual creature stumbles onto someone’s property and falls into a hole, who would be liable for the child’s injuries? Niantic? The landowner? The Pokemon? We will have to see which side the courts take in these cases.

In addition to these lawsuits, the app has been blamed for individuals falling off cliffs, crashing their cars and even walking into traffic while playing the game. Still, the positives of the game might outweigh these issues. In addition to being entertaining, studies have indicated that individuals who play the game have an increase in their positive mental health. Some groups are using the app to promote good deeds and behavior, such as picking up trash or walking shelter dogs while hunting for Pokemon. Additionally, many people are enjoying the fitness side of the app, which encourages walking and traveling. Nick Johnson, the first person to catch all available Pokemon, stated that he lost 10 pounds in less than one month while playing.

With the massive popularity and the intelligence of the companies behind “Pokemon Go,” it is highly unlikely that the current lawsuits will get very far. However, if the courts allow these kinds of lawsuits to proceed, augmented reality may become a creature of the past.

Kevin Peek is a licensed lawyer in the state of Missouri who resides and works in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter for commentary on all things legal and interesting at @Attorney_Peek.

A version of this piece was originally published on Photos courtesy of Kevin Peek.

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