That New Jersey Guy Suing Niantic

I wrote the following on July 20:

With all of the talk about Pokemon Go, I started to wonder: Do I own the virtual space on my private property?

I just bought a house on 3 acres of land. I have legal ownership of that physical space (at least until the government decides to take it for whatever reason). But if Niantic goes and puts a Pokewhatsis on my map coordinates, shouldn’t I own that too? Shouldn’t Niantic have to get my permission before it can do anything with my map coordinates? With anyone’s?

I don’t want to go and sound all old and bitter and anti-fun about it, but, I mean, I would be really annoyed if my private land were invaded by a bunch of kids at all hours of the day and night waving their phones around trying to capture Pokemon. When I start hearing news stories of people getting shot while trying to catch em’ all, I’m going to think, well, that seems like a pretty reasonable response to strangers tresspassing on private property.

Granted, Pokemon-related shootings are probably going to be more of a metropolitan problem than a rural problem, but still.

To answer my opening question, I’m pretty sure the answer is no, I don’t. Pokemon space is most likely owned by Niantic, and I’m sure the map data is owned by Google. This is another example of how government laws aren’t keeping up with the pace of technology.

I just had a thought, though: You know how when you buy a house, there’s a "legal description" of it in the contract? I feel like that legal description should include language that covers "virtual" access to the property as well.

I never got around to publishing the above, because that’s how I roll most of the time. I can’t remember why I didn’t think it was ready to publish, but it went into the pile of things-I-wrote-but-don’t-want-to-publish for whatever reason. (Possibly I thought I might incur the wrath of the entire Internet for daring to suggest Pokemon Go players might not have the right to wander around whereever they felt.)

Anyway, today I stumbled onto this article on

New Jersey Homeowner Files Lawsuit Against Niantic – Pokemon Go News

"A New Jersey homeowner has filed a lawsuit against Niantic and Nintendo for placing a Pokestop on his property without his consent."

That plaintiff sounds like he had the exact same thought I did. I’ll be very curious to see how that lawsuit turns out. Are property rights obsolete in a virtual world? Will future AR games have to feature prominent warnings not to trespass to avoid such lawsuits? Will AR game-makers have to seek permission before using the map coordinates of private property? Will this have a chilling effect on future AR games?

(My assumption is that the case will be thrown out, because it’s too broad, and the courts won’t understand it because the legal system is still about 50 years behind the technology curve.)

One thought on “That New Jersey Guy Suing Niantic”

  1. Where I live “trespass” is generally not even a criminal offense. Indeed, as a homeowner you have a duty of care towards anyone who comes onto your property, whether or not you have invited them to do so. About the only people who threaten to shoot trespassers are farmers, who are notoriously liberal in their application of both threats and lead shot, but the ones who usually end up in the courts if they go further than bluster are the farmers themselves. That, in my opinion, is exactly how it should be. We don’t live in the middle ages.

    As for ownership of the virtual rights, however, I definitely think there is a strong case for them belonging to the homeowner. In some EU territories and I believe even in the UK, Google does not have the right to use certain visual data in Street View if the property owner doesn’t allow it. There are gaps where they have had to pixillate or delete certain buildings. I would think it was entirely possible that could be extended to include some kind of “virtual asset” ownership within the bounds of the deed.

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