I’ve tried to stay quiet about this publicly, but I want to acknowledge my gratitude for the incredible amount of support we’ve already received from so many people. As many of you already know, Candy Lab AR recently filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the government of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. I don’t generally go looking to get involved in lawsuits, but someone needed to stand up and take this step. Our goal is to help prevent the medium of augmented reality from being suppressed before it even gets fully off the ground.
Like so many things in AR right now, this story began with Pokemon Go. That phenomenon took everyone by surprise, and lots of public places around the country had to deal with bigger crowds and occasionally unruly players. But most local governments handled this the way they always do—by ticketing people who broke the rules, but otherwise staying out of the way of people enjoying public property.
Milwaukee was different. They came up with a local ordinance that targeted, not the people breaking rules while playing games, but the companies that publish the games. The law requires game companies to get a permit before “introducing” any “virtual game” (whatever that is) or “location-based augmented reality game” into County Parks. In other words, they are prohibiting the publication of certain video games they don’t like unless you get their permission first. And we’re not just talking about asking nicely, either; Milwaukee requires game companies to provide the same information, fees, and taxes as people who hold physical “events” in the park, to cover things like liability insurance, restrooms, security, and trash removal—which is prohibitively expensive.
This is grossly unconstitutional. No government in the USA today would ever get away with suppressing books, movies, or maps just because they didn’t like what a few people did with them. Video games (whether they’re virtual, location-based, augmented, or not) and other AR content are speech, and the First Amendment that I fought in the US Army to protect is there to prevent the government from prohibiting speech it doesn’t like. Already there is talk of similar regulations in other states. If laws like this are allowed to stand now, then we’re never going to see what a robust and important medium of expression AR can become.
That’s why Candy Lab AR teamed up with attorney Brian Wassom, a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, who blogs at AugmentedLegality.com and has been the world’s thought leader on augmented reality legal issues for more than six years. Ori Inbar, President of the trade group AugmentedReality.Org, and NYU Polytechnic professor Mark Skwarek have also supported us with testimony and evidence. Together, we are asking a federal judge in Wisconsin to strike this law down on First Amendment grounds.
Augmented reality can be the next great platform for human expression and interaction, but only if we let it.