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Pokemon Go trespassers beware

25 July 2016

The new smartphone app, Pokemon Go has been praised by some for getting kids away from TV screens and playing outside again; and lambasted by others for driving the behaviour of over-zealous gamers, reported to have entered private property whilst hunting for the digital creatures.

For those too old to have experienced the ‘magic’ of Pokemon first-hand in the mid to late 90s, Pokemon started life as a video game for the original Nintendo Gameboy, expanding to include cartoons, card games and toys. The aim of the latest incarnation is to immerse oneself in the augmented reality world shown on your smartphone screen, which uses your phone’s GPS to place you on the map. As the app tracks your movements you can explore the world around you to seek out and collect the Pokemon creatures that are digitally added to the landscape.

Unfortunately, the craze has resulted in reports in the media of Pokemon Go players entering private property, whilst playing the game, much to the horror of the property owners. Although the game clearly warns players not to do this without permission, or to commit other acts of trespass, it is very often the case that people simply do not so much as glance at the terms and conditions of an app, much less realise that they are breaking the law. Given the disclaimer in the app’s terms and conditions, the finger of blame is unlikely to be pointing at the game producers.

It is unlikely that isolated incidents of trespass to private property would result in a civil action against the perpetrator. The sensible thing for a property owner to do if faced with a gamer on their property is to ask them to leave. If they fail to do so the local police should be first port of call.

However, and assuming the landowner does not take matters into their own hands, multiple and continued incidents could give the landowner grounds to obtain an injunction from the court, prohibiting the trespass.

Practically, this serves as a reminder that landowners owe a duty to take reasonable care that trespassers are not injured as a result of the state of their property. Landowners would be well-advised to ensure that their properties are properly secured and, if appropriate, displaying adequate signage to make clear that the property is private, and to warn of any potential dangers that are present on the land.

Willans’ Legal 500-recommended property litigation department deals with real property issues such as advising both commercial and residential clients on enforceability of covenants, title issues, boundary and right of way disputes, as well as commercial landlord and tenant disputes. The department acts closely with colleagues in the firm’s commercial property team. The lawyers handle an impressive client portfolio which includes individuals and regional and national businesses.

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Paul Gordon LLB
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