Tag Archives: Trademark

7 Legal Issues For Pokemon Go: Gotta Read Them All!

pogologoPokemon Go has taken the planet by storm.  In its firstweek it surpassed Twitter for daily active users, it became the top grossing US iPhone app in just 13 hours (despite being a free to play game with optional purchases), and mobile users are spending more time on Pokemon Go than on Facebook.  Pokemon Go has become the most popular Android app for daily users, surpassing the previous leaders by nearly 300%.  And it did that in a span of days.

Not only have you likely heard of Pokemon Go, you’re also statistically likely to have played it if you have a mobile phone.  If you haven’t played there are plenty of guides out there (here’s a video I thought was a good intro) or you can just go to any public place where you see people looking at their phones and ask them.

Given the meteoric rise of Pokemon Go, it is only a matter of time before the game crosses over into doing promotions and marketing activity.  There are already reports that the game includes code to run a test promotion with McDonald’s in at least one Asian country.  With this many people and brands interested in the hot new game (and eventual platform), my friend and fellow social media lawyer Jim Dudukovich and I wanted to present the seven legal issues you should know around the game for now.  This isn’t specific legal advice, just us thinking about the intersection of new technology and the law.  And an excuse to play.

1. Pokemon Go isn’t a platform…yet

While Pokemon Go provides an intriguing mix of real world and virtual world entertainment, the interaction between players is currently very limited.  Players do not see other players while wandering their virtual map overlays on real world maps.  The only interaction with other players is in lures dropped by players and battling/training at Pokemon Gyms.

The

The swirling purple flowers are caused by lures dropped by players–you can see the lures dropped by other players but cannot see the players themselves.

This is all certain to change in the future.  The Pokemon Go terms discuss the ability to trade items with other players even though that functionality does not yet exist.  Trading items with other players will possibly come with the ability to communicate with them as well, or perhaps there will be the ability to chat with other members of your team (one of three alliances you join upon reaching level 5 in the game).

While Pokemon Go has currently inspired people to get together and communicate, it is neither required for the game nor supported by it yet.  So the game is not a social media platform…yet.  But given the rise of players and pop culture awareness, it is almost a certainty that the game will either evolve to become a platform or players will start to congregate around another platform in order to communicate.  This places the app more in the realm of just a game for now, but as it expands functionality and brands start to get involved there will be a number of common social media platform legal issues that emerge.  So stay tuned.  And level up in the meantime.

2. Sponsored content is coming

Where there’s a game, there’s an opportunity for brands to get involved (with varying levels of legality).  The model for Pokemon Go has yet to mature (or at least to be announced publicly), but the ways brands can get involved will likely include not only some “conventional” methods, but also some integrations that are possible only with augmented reality.

Going forward, we are likely to see “official” partnerships whereby businesses can become sponsored locations or some other formally identified type of destination with yet-to-be-determined perks (and costs).  In order to distinguish the haves from the have-nots, the benefits of paying for participation will need to really break through the clutter of the free-riders in order for businesses to invest (see #3 below).  One would assume that part of that bundle of rights would be co-promotional rights, whereby those partners can produce advertising materials featuring elements that only official partners can use.

And with augmented reality comes the ability for brands to buy virtual advertising space; clearly Niantic – should it opt to pursue this revenue stream – will need to be thoughtful so as not to chase away users by overly commercializing the user experience.  When users start having to walk around a virtual billboard in order to capture a Jigglypuff, they might begin to revolt.

3. But businesses are already cashing in

As things currently stand, some businesses are near Pokestops, which attract players to their locations to load up on Pokeballs and other virtual supplies and (hopefully) lead those players to buy something from the brick-and-mortar business; at the very least it breeds familiarity and exposure.  We’ve also seen businesses buying and dropping lures to attract players, as well as putting up social posts that play off of the game’s name, notoriety, characters, and imagery, including using #PokemonGo.  There are even online articles telling business how to take advantage of this claim, like this rather creative one from Shift Communications.

Some examples:

An electronics store in Austin, Texas advertising that it is also a Pokemon Go Gym.

An electronics store in Austin, Texas advertising that it is also a Pokemon Go Gym.

This Brookstone in the Houston Galleria invites players in with a discount.

This Brookstone in the Houston Galleria invites players in with a discount.

Space Cadets Collection in Oak Ridge North, Texas alternates which team will receive a discount that day.

Space Cadets Collection in Oak Ridge North, Texas alternates which team will receive a discount that day.

A post on social media shows an alleged poster by a Navy recruiter utilizing Pokemon Go.

A post on social media shows an alleged poster by a Navy recruiter utilizing Pokemon Go, although this has not been verified.

Even Yelp has gotten in on the crazy by offering a filter to find businesses near PokeStops.

Even Yelp has gotten in on the crazy by offering a filter to find businesses near PokeStops.

From a legal standpoint this raises some interesting questions.  For instance, if businesses are leveraging the game to attract consumers, would Niantic not have a potential claim for false association/false endorsement?  One would think so, but since it’s already been over a week and we haven’t seen any claims, uhm, wait – how long until some form of laches or abandonment defense would attach?  But seriously – we don’t know if Niantic has any inclination to attempt to aggressively enforce its trademark rights – it’s making plenty of money from in-app purchases that are attributable to these uses and will likely make plenty more once it launches official branding opportunities.  In light of that, so long as the participation by unaffiliated businesses doesn’t interfere with Niantic’s business opportunities to sell official partnerships, and so long as those unofficial users don’t hold themselves out as official sponsors or otherwise engage in behavior that could dilute or undermine Niantic’s trademark rights, we probably won’t see widespread aggressive policing.

4. Does Pokemon Go create attractive nuisances or encourage trespass?

Pokemon Go is not the first geolocation game to exist, but it’s the first to breakout in such a significant way.  Having millions of people, many of them under the age of 18, wander around trying to collect virtual property brings some real property issues up in unique ways.  These next three topics are just a few of those interesting overlaps between the real and virtual world.

Adults know not to trespass on private property (or the law infers they do) but children are typically given a free pass when it comes to attractive nuisance law.  This is the body of law that covers situations when a child illegally enters private property and is injured while on that property.  While originally laws in this space required the nuisance itself (piles of lumber, swimming pools, trampolines) to cause the injury, the law has also broadened the landowner’s culpability to include conditions that the owner could foresee would cause injury.  Imagine a very visible giant pile of lumber that a child would want to climb and a ravine covered by grass on the way there–that’s covered.

The Pokemon Go terms do imagine this potential risk area.  There’s an entire Safe Play section which discusses avoiding physical harm while playing and obeying all laws including trespassing.  That doesn’t mean much to the 13 year old who won’t read these terms (and 99% of all other players), but it provides the developer with some protection around players being injured.  The terms do not shield property owners, who now may face a slightly greater risk of some injury on their property by players looking for Pokemon.  The game is designed to be played by walking around and the game informs players when Pokemon are nearby but not where they are–the only way to track them down is to try walking in different directions and seeing if they are closer to the Pokemon as indicated by the number of footprints near the Pokemon’s picture or outline.

Since Pokemon are placed randomly, it is possible the game could inadvertently provide clues that lead children onto dangerous property or near a dangerous condition.  These clues are left vague on purpose, to make it more of an exploration game, but that also can lead children onto private or dangerous property.  When the Pokemon finally appears you can click on its location in the map, but getting it to appear can be random.  The game also gives you visual clues of where Pokemon might be with rustling leaves–players chasing those leaves may not realize where they are going.

The game itself doesn’t intend this risky behavior, nor can it be prevented currently.  It’s also debatable if a landowner would be liable for a harmful condition when they did not create the attraction that drew a child onto the property in the first place.  If a landowner is already in a densely populated area and is concerned about children being injured, they probably have already taken action (on the condition itself, preventing access, posting signs).  If they are in a remote area it’s hard to imagine local Pokemon Go players entering their property as opposed to visiting areas of attraction (PokeStops which provide virtual items to players).  But landowners in the space between may want to be aware of this risk and if they were debating taking action in the past, perhaps now is a time to do so.

While it may be difficult to pin responsibility on Pokemon Go for an attractive nuisance or trespass, it certainly creates an environment where those actions may be more likely to take place.  So both players and landowners may want to consider the risks when playing.

5. Pokemon Go and the idea of appropriate play

Outside of the physical risks that players may be subjected to while hunting Pokemon, there is also a growing concern of whether playing the game is appropriate in certain locations.  Within the first week of the game’s launch a story circulated about the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC asking people not to play the game in the museum.  Arlington National Cemetery also asked players to refrain from using the site as a playable location.  The sites said they would reach out to the game creator to see about excluding the sites from the game but so far there does not appear to be an easy way for property owners to exclude their land from the game.

The idea of whether a location is appropriate or not is not limited to large national sites, though.  Because Pokemon Go is based on work done for a previous geolocation game, Ingress, much of the previous game’s data are used for this new iteration.  And because Ingress was based on a storyline involving spiritual energy, many of the featured locations in the game can have a spiritual element such as churches or monuments.  Or take, for example, this PokeStop in Austin, Texas:

faniapokestop

This happens to be the headstone for my wife’s great-grandmother Fania Kruger–a woman who immigrated to Texas when she was 15 and later became a well-known poet.  Is her headstone being a PokeStop a good or bad thing?  Is it a celebration of her life to have players intentionally seek out her final resting place and perhaps learn a bit of who she was or learn her name?  Or is it a desecration of a place of remembrance for her and the other families whose relatives are nearby?  While this may not present a direct legal issue, the reaction to a real world location with emotional interest becoming a game location can cause strong reactions.  And those reactions may turn into legal issues as cemeteries, museums, or other public spaces must now develop a position on Pokemon.

6. Are Pokemon Go players loitering?

Laws vary on the subject, but generally speaking most jurisdictions have laws that allow authorities to prevent people from hanging around with no apparent purpose.  Typically these laws were used to prevent gang activity or break up groups that might lead to trouble.  With small or large groups suddenly appearing in public places, wandering around while staring at their phones, authorities might be curious or concerned.  Within the first few days of the game being launched, a story appeared on Imgur of a white man searching for Pokemon in a park late at night only to encounter two fellow players, black men, and while the three of them talked the police were called about a suspected drug deal.  The story ended happily enough, with the policeman downloading the game and playing, but under scrutiny the original poster deleted the story.

It is true that Pokemon Go is drawing out populations that were previously playing games indoors.  While many people have long bemoaned the lack of America’s youth playing outdoors, society is also shocked and confused when exactly that happens.  While businesses seem to be getting in on the action, some even advertising if their stores are PokeStops or Pokemon Gyms (areas where Pokemon are trained and players battle for control of the location), some other locations may be less open to random strangers driving up or wandering around.  And authorities may be suspicious of large groups gathering at night.  Is it a gang fight or a Pokemon Go meet-up?

The actual definition of loitering may differ by jurisdiction, but it is generally defined as remaining in one place without apparent purpose.  Whether playing Pokemon Go provides that apparent purpose or not is debatable and may be up to the discretion of police officers depending on time and location.  Shopping malls or other private property that have posted No Loitering signs are possible more sensitive to this kind of activity, so players may want to consider the area before conducting extensive searches or meeting up with other players.

7. Are Pokemon Go players targets for criminals?

In the wake of the game’s popularity came another rash of articles suggesting that players were at risk of being targeted by criminals.  There was a report in St Louis of some teens who robbed players, possibly drawing them to their location by dropping a lure (virtual items which other players can see and increase your chances of finding Pokemon).  It’s hard to imagine this is an actual spike in crime though–or if so it is by some of the worst criminals imaginable.  Targeting Pokemon Go players seems far less lucrative than, say, staking out an ATM where people withdraw money.  On the flip side, using a remote PokeStop may yield less rewards but have less chance of getting caught.  Unless you’re in St Louis.

There’s also one story that made the rounds of a player who was stabbed while collecting Pokemon but elected not to go to the hospital so he could keep playing.  You can read the full account here but I thought the more interesting (and usually ignored) part of the story was how he was out at 1 am, saw another man wandering around, and immediately asked him if he was playing Pokemon.  This apparently triggered the man to attack the player with a knife.  So maybe the lesson here is to not wander around after midnight playing Pokemon, or not to assume some other person stumbling around in the dark is doing the same.  It may also be a lesson to the developers that hopefully they won’t create specific Pokemon that can only be found in urban centers, particularly near bars, in early morning hours.

More to come

Pokemon Go has certainly taken the country and world by storm but these are the very early days of the game.  Will it fizzle in the upcoming months, or will it continue to draw a healthy crowd and new functionality as time goes on?  We’ll keep our eyes peeled for any nearby rare Pokemon new legal issues around this game and let you know.

 

 

 

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Filed under Consumer Protection, Copyright, Fair Use, Identity, Kids, Laws, Pokemon Go, Privacy, Social Gaming, Social Platforms, Social Tracking, Technology, Terms and Conditions

YES PLeaSe: A Legal Guide To Periscope And Meerkat

meerkat-vs-periscopeFor the first time in several years we have some significant new entries to the social media application world in the form of Meerkat and Periscope.  Both of these applications allow users to quickly and easily provide Personal Live Streaming (PLS), meaning they can start shooting video and instantly sharing it on social media.  No shooting video and uploading to YouTube/Instagram/Vine, this is an ongoing live stream complete with user interaction.  In all likelihood this is a function that other platforms can provide as well, especially as our handheld technology continues to grow in processing power and our wireless bandwidth continues to grow.  But for now these are two significant players in an emerging space that come with some intriguing legal issues.

After experimenting with the two applications, including an hour-long live cast of my podcast (all about geek culture, if you’re interested you can check out the podcast on iTunes or our website) I put together this quick look at some of the high level legal concerns for brands and organizations who are thinking about getting involved with PLS.  Is it too much to say as brands develop a Go-To-Meerkat strategy?  It is?  Sorry.

Because I’m a lawyer there are, of course, three main risks to be concerned about.  And, oh, how convenient, they spell out YES so we can make a great blog post title.  Those three concerns are YouTube+/-Engagement, and Saved Streams.  Okay, I guess technically that would spell YESS but that sounds reptilian and I’m trying to avoid that easy lawyer joke.  So YES it is.

Because professional courtesy.

Because professional courtesy.

Also please know this is a highly dynamic area.  Meerkat was first to market but Twitter had already acquired Periscope and was preparing its own launch while Meerkat was getting tons of press at SXSW.  So Twitter cut off some important access to Meerkat (both apps use Twitter for crucial functions).  This kind of activity may continue for others that try to create a similar service on the backbone of an existing one, and we’re sure to see completely independent services start up that tout their protection from such antics.  But in a new field with this much attention we are bound to see significant moves in functionality and usage over the next several months, so stay tuned for additional posts on the subjects.

YouTube+/-

Personal Live Streaming is a video stream and so it carries most of the same legal concerns as any video content an organization would post on YouTube.  But the live component of PLS makes for some interesting additions and subtractions to your standard legal analysis of video content.

On the plus side, or additional analysis you should do, you will need to consider the environment in which the stream will be recorded.  Since these streams go out live you will not be able to review them for their content prior to publication.  That video your marketing team did with that catchy, unlicensed Top 40 hit?  Yeah, you can review that before it goes on YouTube so that Marvin Gaye’s estate doesn’t sue you for $7 million but you can’t review it before it streams.  So the environment and context of the video stream should be considered for any legal threats with the team putting the stream together–you won’t get a chance to fix it later.  Consider copyrights, trademarks, privacy concerns, licensing issues, and please at least briefly discuss defamation law with your on-screen talent/broadcaster.

On the minus side, or some mitigating factors that YouTube doesn’t traditionally have, these streams are not intended to be permanent.  Risky activity could be mitigated by the fact that the videos are generally only visible while they are being created (except see our third part, Saved Streams, below).  If someone on camera says “Top Hollywood Celebrity explicitly endorses Company Product!” during a live stream, hopefully the live and non-recorded nature of the film could mitigate any potential rights of publicity claims (or at least damages).  By the way, don’t invite that streambomber to your next livestreams.

Unless it's a dolphin.  Dolphins can photobomb or streambomb all they want.  It's the law.

Unless it’s a dolphin. Dolphins can photobomb or streambomb all they want. It’s the law.

Engagement

Both apps provide similar ways to engage with stream watchers.  Stream watchers can like a stream or send a comment to the broadcaster and those watching.  Both apps also have no moderation abilities at this point–so if someone starts spamming your video broadcast with explicit text or spam there is nothing you can do.

One crucial way in how the apps differ on engagement is the comments.  Meerkat comments are sent via Twitter–they are sent as Twitter replies to the original tweet announcing the Meerkat broadcast.  This can be both good and bad in terms of monitoring and recording the comments and in who can see the posted comments.  Periscope comments are limited to the video stream itself, also with its own benefits and drawbacks.  One consideration organizations should make when using PLS is whether they will have an individual conduct the streams or a small team.  The single user and video shooter can be very effective and personal, but it can also be difficult to engage an audience based on personal content (a speech, a demonstration, etc.).  Having one person operating the camera (well, phone/tablet camera) while another is being filmed will help to monitor video issues and comments, or you may even want to separate the duties between people to operate the camera and another to watch the comments.  There’s no right answer, it’s just something to think through.

Unless you have one of these.  Because now you have extra fingers to use and you are awesome.

Unless you have one of these. Because now you have extra fingers to use and you are awesome.

Saved Streams

PLS is mostly about current video but both apps have some replay abilities that may bring legal risks or make you consider which application your organization may conduct its own experiments.  Meerkat streams are public and they had to issue a quick fix recently to prevent anyone from hijacking another user’s stream.  That security issue aside, Meerkat faces another legal risk in terms of recorded sessions.  Meerkat gives broadcasters the option to save the video to their phone/tablet at the end of the session but there is already a service that will allow any user participating in a Meerkat stream to send out a single hashtag that will record the stream and then post it to YouTube.

The idea that some third party can record and post your stream even if you yourself do not feels quite risky depending on the content that is being sent out.  In many ways this is no different than a user sending a photo on Snapchat that will be deleted but the recipient uses their phone’s operating system to take a screen capture of the image.  But if your organization doesn’t use Snapchat to send out photos then that may not be an analysis you’ve done.  So it’s something to consider.

Pictured: extensive legal analysis.

Pictured: extensive legal analysis.

Periscope, on the other hand, does not currently have a way for third parties to easily record your stream and post it (although there could certainly be a way to record video sent to watcher’s phones/tablets/computers).  The app will, however, allow you to upload the video to Periscope’s servers and allow other users to watch or re-watch the stream for a period after it was filmed.  That at least gives the broadcaster some control over how long the video will live but is also something that should be considered.

 

It’s exciting to see a new function and communities spring up in the social universe.  We haven’t had a significant new step like this since Pinterest many years ago.  Whether this remains a thriving independent community or more of a feature that everyone will enable (like checking in from a few years ago) remains to be seen.

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Filed under Copyright, Personal Live Streaming, Pinterest, Privacy, Trademark, Twitter

Iceholes: How The ALSA May Win The Battle But Lose The War

You know what we do to bad ice on a pedestal?

The biggest surprise hit of the summer is not Guardians of the Galaxy but rather the megaviral smash Ice Bucket Challenge benefiting the ALS Association. Rather than be thankful for this windfall the ALSA has recently decided that they should own this challenge and prevent any other cause or organization from using it. What do you think they are, a charity?

Oh yeah, they are.  Then maybe they should start acting like it and not a bunch of selfish iceholes.

First, some background. The ALSA did not create the ice bucket challenge. The gimmick has been around for a long time. In fact, when this latest round started over the summer it began as a challenge to dump a bucket of ice water on your head or donate $100 to a charity of your choice.  It was only when the challenge first passed to professional golfer Chris Kennedy that the donation was flagged for the ALSA and the individuals he tagged kept the charity when they made their videos.  Later, there was a significant wave of ice bucket activity in Boston due to native ALS sufferer Pete Frates and concerted actions by the Red Sox organization.  Facebook’s data team’s analysis shows that Boston does appear to be the epicenter of the challenge going truly viral.

Nobody is exactly sure why the challenge has reached its current level of popularity, but that’s true for most viral hits in the social media age.  Sure, the videos are funny. And having one person tag several others to participate makes for an exponential reach. And having the challenge somehow associated with charity so we all think we can have fun while helping out a worthy cause makes it seem nice too. There are even a scattering of super serious videos in the mix depicting a bit of what the disease means to its victims and their families. We can identify all the elements but we still don’t know what made this challenge go viral like it did.  Heck, even I did one.  Although I’m not linking it after the reasons behind this post.

That doesn’t really matter though. It doesn’t matter that we can’t explain why it went viral; it went viral. It doesn’t matter that perhaps the amount of money we give to charities is out of proportion to the impact of the disease as IFLScience linked in a Vox article infographic; there is no doubt this is a horrific disease and increased attention to it is a good thing. It doesn’t matter that ALSA only spends a small percentage of its budget on research; it performs several other valuable services and all charities have to spend a lot of money to ultimately make more money in the end.

Here’s what does matter: the ALSA was given the greatest gift of their life in terms of this ice bucket challenge.  Donations are through the roof.  Yesterday they reported making over $94.3 million in donations in just the last month.  Last year, in the same time period, they received around $2.7 million.  Rather than just say thanks or give the tearful Sally Field “You like me, you really like me!” Oscar acceptance speech they decided to go another direction. They decided to take that warm fuzzy feeling we’ve had from watching or making these videos and donating to a worthy cause and pour a giant bucket of ice water on our flames of altruism.

As first reported on the Erik M Pelton & Associates blog, the ALSA filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office to be granted a trademark for the term ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE as used for any charitable fundraising.  They also filed an application for ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE but it’s the main application that should make people furious.  Heck, it made me enough to write a blog post on a Thursday night and I never do that.

Filing a trademark for the term “Ice Bucket Challenge” would allow them to prevent any other charity from promoting a campaign that the ALSA had fall into their lap.  The ALSA did not create this concept.  They did not market this campaign until it already went viral.  They have no responsibility whatsoever for this going viral.  If the ice bucket challenge had found a connection to the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society then it could have gone just as viral.

What on earth could make the ALSA think they should have any right whatsoever to prevent someone else from using this challenge?

I can’t think of a good reason.  I can think of reasons, mind you.  They just aren’t good.  Fortune was able to get a statement from ALSA spokesperson Carrie Munk:

The ALS Association took steps to trademark Ice Bucket Challenge after securing the blessings of the families who initiated the challenge this summer. We did this as a good faith effort after hearing that for-profit businesses were creating confusion by marketing ALS products in order to capitalize on this grassroots charitable effort.

Sorry, ALSA, but that excuse doesn’t hold water.

First, obtaining the blessings of the families who created this challenge is nonsense.  Even if you got permission from everyone who ever did an ice bucket challenge–SO WHAT?  This was a charity drive.  You think the first charity to earn a million dollars from a bake sale should get to stop all other bake sales?  Because that’s what filing a trademark on the challenge is an attempt to do–you’re trying to stop any other charity from using the term for fundraising.

Second, you heard some shady companies were making money off the Ice Bucket Challenge?  Wow, that must be weird.  To think there are these companies just sitting around making money off something they didn’t create.  JUST LIKE YOU.  Who cares if someone makes an Ice Bucket Challenge shirt and sells it?  If it says ALSA on it or has your logo you can already go after them without this new trademark application.

The ALSA’s actions are atrocious and reprehensible.  They may have raised a ton of money this summer but it could all backfire over a move like this.

But here, ALSA, I’m going to be nicer than you appear to be.  Here’s a way for you to cover your cold, soaked behinds and spin this in a favorable way.  What you should have done is post on your website the day you filed the application, saying that you are only doing so to protect all charities from shady profiteers but that all charities would be free to use the mark forever for no charge if you received the trademark.  The fact that you didn’t tell anyone about the application and only commented when it was called out on social media (by the way, you’ve heard about this social media thing and how a lot of people use it, right?) you can just blame on being so busy counting all your money.  It’s a bad excuse, but maybe it can save some face.

Because right now you look like a bunch of iceholes and I resent every penny I gave you.  Not for the good work you’ve done, which is a lot, or the families you’ve helped, which are numerous, but for being greedy instead of generous, selfish instead of, you know, charitable.

Update Aug 29: The ALSA has withdrawn their trademark application. Good.

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Filed under Celebrities, Crowdfunding, Facebook, Social Content, Social Tracking