Trainer Tips: Pokémon Go and the Law

Do you want to be the very best, like no one ever was?  If you’re one of Pokémon Go’s 21 million daily active users, chances are you do.  For those unaware, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality app which uses a smartphone’s GPS and camera in order to see, catch, train, and battle Pokémon in the world around us.

Effectively, the app is the closest representation to what it would be like to actually have Pokémon inhabit our world without the sporadic fires, hurricanes, and floods caused by the Pokémon themselves.

But while Pokémon trainers are wading in the tall grass in their attempt to catch ‘em all, simple missteps may actually bring those trainers into contact with Officer Jenny rather than the elusive Ditto they were searching for.

In the week since the app’s release, questions have been raised about user conduct as people have utilized unlawful, and dangerous, methods in their search to catch ‘em all.

Here are some helpful legal tips for any Pokémon trainer:

Pokéstops and Gyms are public places for a reason

Though your legs may be sore from the many kilometers you’ve walked to hatch your eggs, avoid entering private property as a means of getting close enough to utilize a Pokéstop or Gym.  Otherwise, you may be arrested for trespassing.

In New York, a person is guilty of trespass when they knowingly enter or remain unlawfully in or upon premises.  There are several aggravating factors which can escalate the severity, and criminality, of the trespass, such as if the premises is fenced or enclosed to exclude intruders, the type of premises it is (i.e. a school, residence), and whether the trespasser was in possession of a firearm or explosive.

Pokéstops and Gyms were made public places so that all trainers could enter their areas legally.  However, the maps used by Niantec and Nintendo in creating Pokémon Go are slightly outdated, and there have been reports of Pokéstops and Gyms being placed on private property.  Unfortunately, entering private property to access said Pokéstop or Gym would be considered trespassing, regardless of how long the player remained on the property.  Additionally, there have been reports of Pokéstops being located at military bases, and even a Gym in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (which has since mysteriously disappeared).  Needless to say entering into any area occupied or operated by any military entity without the proper clearance is likely unlawful, and perhaps dangerous.  In essence, don’t go looking for Lt. Surge.

Stay out of other people’s tall grass

It may be tempting to enter property that does not belong to you in search of a Pokémon you’ve been tracking.  However, your pursuit of that Pokémon does not allow you to enter onto that property lawfully.  Some States allow for the pursuit of wild game onto another’s property in order to hunt said game.  The underlying concept as to what is considered to be “wild game” is known as Ferae Naturae, which are animals that are wild by nature and by which possession is a means of acquiring title to.  In those States, while in pursuit of wild game and entering onto another’s property, trespass would not be warranted.  This concept also allows whoever trapped or killed the animal to obtain rightful possession of the animal, regardless of whose property it was killed or trapped on.  However, as Pokémon are sadly not real, it cannot be said that Pokémon are wild by nature.  The limitation of Pokémon to being trapped inside our phones and ultimately being a byproduct of code immediately removes any consideration that they would be considered wild game.  Therefore, entering onto another’s property in pursuit would still be trespassing.

Trainers don’t travel by car

One of the reasons Ash never drove a car during his adventures (aside from him being a child) is that it is much easier to stop for Pokémon when you are walking or riding a bicycle.  Similarly, you should not utilize the app while driving.  Aside from the incredible danger that such use creates, the use of a cell phone while driving is generally unlawful.

Pursuant to section 1225-d of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, “no person shall operate a motor vehicle while using any portable electronic device while such vehicle is in motion.”  The statute further states that a cell phone is considered an “electronic device” and that “using” includes playing games on said device.

Based on a plain reading of the statute, playing Pokémon Go while driving is unlawful.  Though the potential enforcement of these laws would likely result in fines, playing Pokémon Go while driving is a serious safety concern.  In fact, several car accidents have been reported as a result of users playing Pokémon Go while driving.  Trainers should take the safe and legal approach of walking while playing.

Conclusion

Pokémon trainers should always engage in lawful conduct in their pursuit of catching ‘em all.  As tempting as it may be to track Pokémon to another’s property or to drive instead of walk to hatch eggs, such conduct is unlawful and importantly, unsafe.  Stay safe fellow trainers, and as always, be on the lookout for Team Rocket.

 

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Roger Quiles is an attorney from New York City with a practice servicing the eSports and video game industries. A die-hard gamer since Super Mario Bros., Roger now represents professional gamers, Youtubers, streamers, tournament producers, and the businesses that serve them. Roger firmly believes that life's problems can be solved with up, up, down, down, left, right, left right, B, A, Start.