In re Pokemon Go Nuisance Litigation United States District Court for the Northern District of California Filed: February 14, 2019 Case No. 3:16-cv-04300-JD
Following the settlement of a class action lawsuit related to the Augmented Reality (AR) mobile game, Pokemon Go, developer Niantic must try to dissuade players from trespassing on private property, pay $4 million in attorney fees, and pay all named plaintiffs $1000 each. This settlement was granted by the California court in late August.
The settlement results from a number of property owners who filed a complaint stating that Niantic encouraged Pokemon Go players to trespass on private property by placing in-game virtual locations and rewards on real-world private property.
Originally, plaintiffs had sought $2,500 each in incentive awards, but the judge lowered this number to $1,000, stating: “There’s no reason why it would be so high.”
This case sprang forth from a number of lawsuits filed after Pokemon Go’s remarkable world-wide success in July 2016. These suits were later consolidated and then jointly claimed that Niantic “effectively transformed those properties into scavenger hunt grounds.”
While Niantic repeatedly tried to dismiss the suit, their arguments were not accepted by the court. Given the new technology and issues presented by augmented reality, the judge was willing to allow the case to continue. Niantic argued that it was not responsible for players’ actions and had done nothing wrong. The judge was unable to point to any precedent delineating liability for placing objects in a virtual space associated with private property in the real world, but believed it was enough to trigger the trespassing claims presented in the suit.
The final form of the settlement does not include any monetary payment for non-named plaintiffs, but, to further the goal of protecting private property, Niantic has agreed to set up a website to track and handle complaints related to trespassing and other nuisances created by Pokemon Go. The goal is to resolve any claim with a 15-day window.
Niantic will also take a further step by removing in-game Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms that are located near single-family residential properties, as well as taking efforts to prevent new ones from being created in such places. New in-game notifications will caution players to be wary of their real world surroundings, and Niantic also will change in-game events to more closely correlate with the hours of operation for public parks.
Specifically, the settlement agreement provides coverage to anyone who owns or rents property within nearly a football-field’s distance of a Pokestop or Pokemon Gym, as long as Niantic did not receive prior permission to use the real-world location. This settlement agreement is set to run for three years.
Despite the settlement, Niantic continues to deny all wrongdoing or legal violations related to the suit. Still, it will be interesting to see if there are any new developments in the augmented reality space. As the technology becomes more prevalent more companies and games may attempt to use augmented reality as their platform upon which they build their game. While this settlement does not set any new precedent in the AR space, the willingness of the court to hear the suit at all shows that avoiding liability may not be as simple as Niantic and others may have initially anticipated.