Summer 2016 saw a spike in game-related incidents that made headlines, most notably the woman who was killed by a driver playing Pokemon GO. This week, the trouble continues all the way to the courthouse. On Friday, April 21, a California-based gaming company sued Wisconsin's Milwaukee County over a law that requires developers to obtain a permit to play augmented reality games such as Pokemon GO in its parks.
Candy Lab, Inc., based in Irvine, California, presented a federal lawsuit asking for Milwaukee County's law to be deemed unconstitutional on free-speech grounds. Candy Lab alleges that the ordinance is in direct violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and asks that the court system bar Milwaukee County from enforcing the "Pokemon GO permit" requirement altogether.
The law was passed in February, following a crowd control issue in a Lake Michigan park. A group of Pokemon GO players flocked to the public area, and, according to officials, left the park riddled with litter. Milwaukee County allegedly has to foot the bill to clean the area of all trash.
As most Pokemon GO fans would argue, crowds of people banding together in a single area is a common occurrence when playing the game. The recent incident in Lake Michigan sounds quite similar to a standard Pokemon GO gathering, in which players join forces to capture recently spawned Pokemon, collect in-game rewards, or complete special event challenges.
In order for fans to legally play Pokemon GO and other augmented reality games in Milwaukee County parks, game developers must obtain a permit, much like a business or group would need in order to host an event. According to The Chicago Tribune, permit fees range from $100 to $1,000, "depending on how much of the park will be used and how many people are expected to be there."
County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman penned the law, and stated that money used toward obtaining a permit is intended to "help with the park's upkeep." Permits themselves are "supposed to help the county prepare for the volume of people" that may be playing augmented reality games. Pokemon GO is the current fastest-selling mobile app to reach $1 billion USD, so it appears that its popularity is a factor in the law's details.
Candy Lab is "already in violation of the ordinance" because the company doesn't have a permit. The developer is currently testing its own augmented reality game in Milwaukee, and would need need a legal document to allow its users to play in the county's parks. Candy Lab's Texas Rope 'Em shares similar elements with Pokemon GO, as the indie card-collecting game requires players to physically move to pick up new items.
Lawsuit alleges that Candy Lab, a startup company with few investors, simply "cannot afford to undertake the process of researching the need to, and undertaking the effort to apply for, permits from municipal governments before publishing the very mobile applications that are the source of the company's revenue."
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele signed the so-called Pokemon GO permit law, but one of his spokespeople stated that he "can't comment on pending litigation."
While a gaming lawsuit, especially one involving a worldwide mobile phenomenon like Pokemon GO, may seem shocking, it isn't actually the first instance the justice system was brought in to end a battle. A past legal battle, Strickland vs. Sony, saw anti-gaming lawyer Jack Thompson go head-to-head with Sony of America, alleging that a man who shot and killed three people was attempting to recreate scenes from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Ironically, like the Candy Lab/Milwaukee County lawsuit, this one hinged on First Amendment grounds.
Though this latest legal conflict does involve one of Niantic and Nintendo's hottest commodities, it seems unlikely that Pokemon GO's reputation will be tarnished by the lawsuit. After all, Pokemon GO fans are friendlier and more positive than their non-player counterparts.
Pokemon GO is available on iOS and Android devices.
Source: The Chicago Tribune