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Public Safety Policies

Get off my lawn! Pokemon Go tests global property laws

Lin Taylor's picture
The augmented reality mobile game "Pokemon Go"
by Nintendo is shown on a smartphone screen in
this photo illustration taken in Palm Springs,
California U.S. July 11, 2016.

Within one week in July the Sydney suburb of Rhodes was transformed from a quiet neighbourhood to what resident Joyce Wong described as a "place of carnage" with hundreds of people wandering around like "zombies".   

"The car hooting noise was incessant, on weekends you felt like you were under siege and the rubbish and litter all over the public areas was terrible," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email from her home in the Australian city.

The reason for the constant disturbance? Pokemon Go, the latest craze in augmented reality.

The game took the world by storm this summer as animated creatures began appearing in the most unexpected places - all through the lens of a smartphone.

The global popularity of the game and other video games that put digital "characters" into real places – from private homes to shops, parks and even monuments and museums – has fuelled debate on land rights, the legal boundaries of private property, and what constitutes trespass.

Experts say the inter-section between virtual reality and property law is not clear, and nobody really knows what the rights of property owners are when digital characters or structures appear on their land.

"A lot of people are convinced that because they own their property, they ought to be able to control the virtual space," said Brian Wassom, a lawyer at Michigan's Warner Norcross & Judd LLP with expertise in augmented reality.

"I think they're going to come to the answer which I have come to, which is: no, you can't," he said in a phone interview.

He said land rights only apply when there has been something or someone physically present on the property.

However, this distinction is becoming blurred as more and more examples of the power the digital world can hold over specific geographical spots emerge.

Natural Disasters: What Role for Information and Communication?

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Photo Credit: Flickr user Sarvodaya.orgIn the wake of the massive and horrific natural disasters in Myanmar and China, it is important to examine how the provision of humanitarian relief relates to issues of voice and accountability. In a general sense, communication should be an absolutely vital element of any relief effort.