To Catch a Rare Pokémon – The Legal Perspective

Jul 19, 2016
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Written by Richard Yuen

It’s incredibly difficult to ignore the social impact of Pokémon Go; the critter catching, nostalgia-inducing augmented reality game that took Australia by storm. Since its release last week, much of Australia’s population has become addicted to this novel game, with many residents aiming to “catch ‘em all”. It’s a nice nod to more innocent times, where “becoming a Pokémon trainer” was a legitimate dream.

However, many social problems have arose as a result of the game’s mechanics, with many public places such as Peg Paterson Park in Rhodes filled to the brim with people playing on their mobile devices. Many residents did not enjoy the noise and the crowds filling their local park, and some residents even decided to waterbomb players of the game a few nights ago. Police were called in to look in on the matter, and many players were forcibly moved from the premises, threatened with a fine for loitering.

In light of the above developments, what can we learn from what happened? Let’s have a look at the potential legal issues and implications that can stem from the incident at Rhodes regarding this addictive mobile game.

Distinction between Private and Public Places

In their attempts to catch rare Pokémon, many players have been unaware of the distinction between public and private places, and may have unknowingly trespassed on private property.

Private places are places like people’s homes and property, and the law considers the garden and lawn to be a part of someone’s property. Pokémon Go players who step on lawns or enter private property without permission from the owner can be forcibly removed from the premises. Additionally, there may be penalties for unlawful entry. That’s an awful lot of legal drama just to catch a rare Pokémon!

Public places are places such as parks, footpaths, roads; basically any open place that allows anyone to enter. These places are open to anyone, but there are many obligations applied for the use of the land. Pokémon Go players just playing in the park is perfect! But when there are too many people in any one area, police may step in and take action, like the incident at Peg Paterson Park.

Police Intervention and Loitering

The incident at Peg Paterson Park had police being called onto park premises, with police threatening to fine people for loitering and issuing “move-on” directions to Pokémon Go players. Loitering is defined as the act of hanging around without a goal, and in most situations, is only a crime in very specific circumstances, such as loitering with the intent to commit an offence.

Everyone has a right to use public space, but in situations like these, with a rowdy crowd of hundreds of Pokémon fans in the park late at night, there is a legitimate fear that an incident might spark from the situation.

In New South Wales, police are allowed by legislation to give a reasonable direction to a person in a public place if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person’s presence or conduct:

  • Obstructs another person or traffic;
  • Constitutes harassment or intimidation of another person;
  • Causes or is likely to cause fear to another person;
  • Is for the purpose of unlawfully supplying any prohibited drug; or
  • Is for the purpose of obtaining any prohibited drug.

These are called “move-on” powers, and they allow the police to control the use of public places. With an uncontrollable crowd in a park even at midnight, it’s hard to argue that there’s no possibility of people being a public nuisance. Who knew that we could glean all this from Pokémon!

The Legal Perspective

With so many people playing Pokémon Go, it can be hard for everyone to be aware of all their obligations under the law. Here we can learn from the incident at Rhodes and be aware of what we should and shouldn’t do in our quest to mass catch Dratini for that Dragonite.

What other legal problems could come out of augmented reality gaming? Let us know by tagging us @Lawpath.

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