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Pokemon Go - "A serious risk to landowners and players"

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By Thomas Airey, Trainee Solicitor

The new mobile app Pokémon Go, launched in July 2016, has quickly become a global sensation; an addictive and potentially beneficial pastime for a great many would-be trainers of cartoon monsters.  The game uses ‘augmented reality’ to superimpose Pokémon characters onto the image of what can be seen through the lens of the player’s smartphone camera. The idea is to allow players to pursue and collect all 101 cartoon creatures in a real world setting.

The benefits of the app in terms of health and wellbeing are an important feature of the advertising. The app certainly encourages exercise and time outdoors and one can see the benefits of this in our ever more sedentary and domesticated lives. However, landowners and players need to be aware of the implications for them in terms of trespass law.

Some canny business owners are making the most of the game’s success by locating ‘lures’ at the site of their business to attract Pokémon within the game and thereby actively encouraging players to follow suit. Meanwhile many property owners rely on having uninterrupted space in which to conduct difficult and often dangerous work in peace such as farmers and manufacturers, who are doing all they can to keep players from straying onto their land.

Where a creature or lure has been superimposed onto private land, it is easy for a player, caught up in the excitement of the game, to venture onto that property thereby committing a trespass. It needs to be borne in mind that, whether or not it is accidental or inadvertent, the slightest crossing on to land in the ‘immediate and exclusive possession of another’ will equate to an act of trespass.

The key issue for landowners is their liability for the safety of those who wander on to their land in search of these colourful characters. The onus is on them as the landowner to ensure that hazards are properly highlighted and that they provide sufficient physical deterrents in relation to dangerous areas.

In order to minimise the risk of trespass and any adverse consequences, there are certain precautions that landowners can take, and many of which involve applying a liberal amount of common sense. Precautions include:-

  • reviewing your insurance policies and making sure that all are up to date and cover all foreseeable risks
  • constructing and maintaining adequate fencing and general security around the property boundary
  • risk assessing the property and fencing off or clearly identifying any serious hazards that could result in landowner liability

For players to enjoy their game within the bounds of the law and without incurring unnecessary risks, there are a few points to consider, but the overriding message would be: if you are playing the game and you have completely lost awareness of your surroundings, you need to get a grip and zone back into the real world as quickly as possible before you wander onto someone else’s property and get hit with a trespass claim, or worse.

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