Pokemon Go has become a major augmented reality phenomenon with millions of players worldwide in a relatively short amount of time. Although most welcomed the game warmly, the software developers are now facing a class action lawsuit (opens in new tab) for Pokemon, Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms located on private and public property without the consent of the landowners.
When Niantic released Pokemon Go, it randomly placed Pokemon, Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms all over the world. Players of the game wander the real world and use smartphones to capture Pokemon, buy items and fight Pokemon Gym leaders.
“To create that immersive world, Niantic made unauthorized use of Plaintiff’s and other Class members’ property by placing Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms thereupon or nearby,” said Jennifer Pafiti in the lawsuit. “In so doing, Niantic has encouraged Pokémon Go’s millions of players to make unwanted incursions onto the properties of plaintiff, and other members of the class, a clear and ongoing invasion of their use and enjoyment of their land from which defendants have profited and continue to profit.”
Due to the randomized placement of the Pokemon, Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms, they have turned up in some unwanted locations such as in houses, cemeteries and museums. According to Jeffrey Marder, a man living in New Jersey, he received at least five unwelcome visitors that wanted access to his backyard to catch Pokemon within the first week of the game’s launch.
“Plaintiff and other Class members have all suffered and will continue to suffer harm and damages as a result of Defendants’ unlawful and wrongful conduct. A class action is superior to other available methods for the fair and efficient adjudication of this controversy,” said Pafiti.
Mr. Marder is not alone either; one Massachusetts homeowner claimed that they received as many as 15 visitors in just a few hours after Niantic designated the home as a Pokemon Gym. Niantic has also received complaints from cemeteries and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. for its inappropriate placement of Pokemon.
The plaintiffs are pressing the lawsuit on one count of nuisance and one count of unjust enrichment. The plaintiff used the following statements to defend its position:
“At common law, an invasion of one’s use and enjoyment of their land, if repeated or of long duration, constitutes a nuisance. The foregoing conduct has resulted in foreseeable incursions by Pokémon Go players onto the property of Plaintiff and the other members of the proposed class, thereby invading their use and enjoyment of their properties."
Niantic technically created Pokemon Go, and The Pokemon Company and Nintendo do not own it, but the plaintiffs levied the class action lawsuit against all three companies. As The Pokemon Company merely licensed the IP to Niantic, and Nintendo is not directly involved with Pokemon Go, it is unlikely that the Plaintiffs will succeed in pressing these charges against either company.
As the primary game developer and operator, Niantic will likely bear the brunt of the lawsuit if it loses the court case.