Pokemon Goes to Court in Backyard Monster Trespassing CaseBy
New Jersey resident’s complaint may be first over gaming craze
Suit follows anguish over monster hunters at Holocaust museum
A New Jersey resident with a pocket monster in his backyard filed what may be the first lawsuit against Niantic Inc. and Nintendo Co. for unleashing Pokemon Go across the U.S., claiming that players are coming to his home uninvited in their race to “catch ’em all.”
The West Orange man alleges the companies have created a nuisance with their GPS-based game and seeks class-action status on behalf of all Americans whose properties have been trespassed upon by players in search of Pokemon Go monsters. The complaint includes references to Pokemon hunters parading into an Alabama cemetery and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and also cites a Massachusetts homeowner visited more than a dozen times within hours of the game’s release last month.
Pokemon Go was developed by San Francisco-based Niantic, with some input from Nintendo. While excitement over the game’s popularity at one point more than doubled Nintendo’s market value, shares have since corrected as the company pared back expectations, saying financial impact will be "limited."
The game’s user map places Pokemon gyms and Pokestops on and adjacent to private properties without owners’ consent, according to the complaint filed Friday by Jeffrey Marder in federal court in Oakland, California.
“At least five individuals knocked on plaintiff’s door, informed plaintiff that there was a Pokemon in his backyard, and asked for access to plaintiff’s backyard in order to ‘catch’ the Pokemon,” according to the complaint. “Defendants have shown a flagrant disregard for the foreseeable consequences of populating the real world with virtual Pokemon without seeking the permission of property owners."
Nintendo shares fell to a three-week low on Monday in Tokyo after Pokemon dropped to No. 4 from No. 1 in Japanese iPhone downloads. The shares rose 1 percent to 21,170 yen at 11:28 a.m. local time Tuesday. In the first two weeks after its release, Pokemon Go had been downloaded more than 30 million times and generated more than $35 million in revenue, according to the complaint.
Niantic didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the complaint. The company’s guidelines for the game urge users to “adhere to the rules of the human world,” including avoiding trespassing or trying to “gain access to any property or location where you do not have the right or permission to be.”
Yasuhiro Minagawa, a spokesman for Nintendo, declined to comment.
The maps are based on Niantic’s original GPS-based, augmented reality game called Ingress, which generated a cult following after it was released in 2013. As they played the game, Ingress users helped build the map now used in Pokemon Go, said Ryan Morrison, a lawyer in New York who specializes in legal issues related to video games.
“There’s going to be 200 lawsuits, that’s for sure," Morrison said in a phone interview. “If the court comes along and says this kind of suit is OK, what a terrible blow it will be to augmented reality technology."
The case is Marder v. Niantic Inc., 16-cv-04300, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (Oakland).
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— With assistance by Takashi Amano