Public Augmented Reality No Longer a Crime in Wisconsin
posted Saturday Jul 22, 2017 by Scott Ertz
Since Niantic released Pokémon GO last year, it has caused a lot of people and organizations to consider how it impacts them and their resources. Wireless networks have seen increased data consumption, which has resulted in increased bandwidth in heavy usage areas. Some churches have seen increased property usage, which has given them opportunity to reach out to new people. Some restaurants and business have seen increases in attention, to which they have reached out looking for new customers.
One place where increased usage has been more confusing than anything has been in public parks. Many cities, counties and states have embraced the increased awareness of the parks, and even worked to create events. Some parks have created Pokémon GO meetups, luring Stops at their own cost, to get people out and engaging in the parks. It has been well-received by most people across the world.
Milwaukee County in Wisconsin, rather than embracing the popularity of the game, decided to pass a law requiring that augmented reality game makers receive special usage permits to allow for games to be played in their parks. Without question, this law was bound to be challenged in court, if not by Niantic itself, by another AR game maker. That is exactly what happened, with a federal suit being filed by Candy Lab, maker of Texas Rope 'Em, another AR game with similar features to Pokémon GO. The suit was brought on First Amendment grounds, with prior restraint being placed on speech. The county argued, saying,
Texas Rope 'Em is not entitled to First Amendment protection because it does not convey any messages or ideas. Unlike books, movies, music, plays and video games-mediums of expression that typically enjoy First Amendment protection - Texas Rope 'Em has no plot, no storylines, no characters, and no dialogue. All it conveys is a random display of cards and a map. Absent the communicative features that invoke the First Amendment, Candy Lab has no First Amendment claim.
The player simply views randomly generated cards and travels to locations to get more. That is not the type of speech that demands First Amendment safeguards.
A federal court disagreed with the county's argument this week, declaring the law to be in violation of the Constitution. US District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller issued an injunction this week, preventing the county from enforcing their law, one that was nearly impossible to enforce in the first place.
The timing of the ruling couldn't be better, with this weekend being the big Pokémon GO Fest in Chicago, with events happening globally through Monday evening. Being able to play in Milwaukee parks will give plays more opportunity to engage with other trainers.