Pokémon Go May be a Cultural Sensation but it’s also a Legal Headscratcher

08 Aug, 2016

The augmented reality game Pokémon Go may have taken over the public consciousness but it is creating serious questions around the issues of privacy and property, says UK Tayside based solicitors and estate agents Miller Hendry.

The cultural sensation that is crashing servers, topping download charts, losing people off cliffs and generating plenty of news headlines is also directly affecting homeowners and dwellers, as well as business owners. Not only is there a privacy issue but there are question marks over the virtual space around a building and who, if anyone, owns it.

Business places, landmarks and places of cultural interest can unwittingly be designated as PokéStops or Pokémon Gyms – both essential stop-offs for players of Pokémon Go – with only the game’s maker, Niantic, deciding where these virtual pit stops will be. However, there is a distinct possibility that people may live in them, says Miller Hendry, which points to inhabited buildings such as stately homes and converted churches as examples.

And while so far businesses have reacted favourably to being PokéStops, Pokémon Gyms or a place where the Pokémon creatures have been spotted – with many seeing its potential marketing benefits – others are acknowledging that it creates problems.

Perth & Kinross Council recently posted a notice on its Facebook page asking that, in the interests of safety, people not enter its Friarton Recycling Centre, a place where Pokémon can be caught. “We have requested that the Pokémon be moved onto a more suitable location where trainers can go to battle in a safer environment,” said the statement.

Due to the inherent legal issues surrounding the game’s popularity, Miller Hendry is this week launching a series of blogs on the subject.

Alistair Duncan, commercial property expert at Miller Hendry, said:

“An example of where we may see issues arising is where a commercial business that is drawing Pokémon Go players to its premises, by being a PokéStop or Pokémon Gym or paying for one of the ‘lure modules’ that attracts the game’s creatures to it, shares the space with residences. The inhabitants could feasibly get uncomfortable with a large influx of people being around their places of residence with smart phones and camera capability, and at all hours of the day or night. And, of course, there’s also the issue of the business owner not wanting to take part at all yet having no choice, as happened with the Holocaust Museum in Washington and, just recently, Friarton Recycling Centre in Perth.

“Another concern is with private property owners living in a place that used to be, or perhaps still is, a landmark or cultural destination, such as stately homes, churches and converted buildings. There has already been a publicized case of a man living in a church which was considered a landmark and ended up as a Pokémon Gym. The subsequent crowds are an issue not just for the dweller but for his or her neighbours. It poses the question: in the case of virtual space, where does your property line end?

“And while the game’s maker, Niantic, has advised players not to approach private properties whilst playing the game, we have already heard stories of players who are doing just that – knocking on people’s doors and telling them they are searching for a Pokémon in or around the property.

“The last thing we at Miller Hendry want to do is curb people’s enthusiasm for the game, or put a stop to the fun. However, the popularity of Pokémon Go has generated concerns for property owners across the board, from private individuals to business owners. ‘No Pokémon Go-ing’ could well be the new ‘No soliciting’ sign. When virtual space around a home or business starts being used for marketing and advertising purposes – something we believe is not far down the line – there will be interesting legal battles over who owns that space.”

(Source: Miller Hendry Solicitors)

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