A lawsuit in a federal court raises the ticklish issue of whether a company can be hauled to court because its augmented reality game places coveted fantasy creatures and in-game benefits in private property without permission.
Jeffrey Marder, a resident of West Orange, New Jersey, found in the days after the release of the successful augmented reality game Pokémon Go, that strangers, phone in hand, had begun lingering outside his home.
At least five of them knocked on Marder’s door and asked for access to his backyard to catch and add to their virtual collections of the Pokémon images, superimposed over the real world, that the game developer had placed at the residence without his permission.
"It became apparent that Niantic had designated properties as Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms without seeking permission from property owners and with flagrant disregard for the foreseeable consequences of doing so," according to his complaint. The stops and gyms help users gain access to in-game items and advantages.
The scenario at Marder's house has played out in other locations as well including people’s homes, cemeteries and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., according to Marder, who has filed a proposed nationwide class-action lawsuit against Niantic, the developer of the game, Pokémon Company, which holds the marketing and licensing rights for the franchise, and Nintendo, which publishes the Pokémon video game series and owns a 32 percent stake in Pokémon Co.
“The intentional, unauthorized placement of Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms on or near the property of Plaintiff and other members of the proposed class constitutes a continuing invasion of the class members’ use and enjoyment of their land, committed by Niantic on an ongoing basis for Defendants’ profit,” according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The lawsuit charges that by its acts and practices Niantic is liable for nuisance while it and other defendants have been unjustly enriched.
Niantic acknowledges its placement of Pokéstops on private property, and advises users on the game website: "If you can’t get to the Pokéstop because it’s on private property, there will be more just around the corner, so don’t worry!," according to the complaint.
The company’s guidelines for the game on its website remind users to “adhere to the rules of the human world" and to stay aware of their surroundings. Users are warned against trespass or gaining access to a location without right or permission.
The lawsuit, which asks for a jury trial, wants unspecified damages for the class. Niantic did not immediately comment.