Your Ad Where? Defining Virtual Property Rights in an Augmented World

Get Ready for Ad Battles Over Virtual Space as Augmented Billboards, Coupons Pop Up Everywhere

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Matthew Szymczyk
Matthew Szymczyk
Picture this scenario coming soon to a future near you: You are out and about looking for something to eat. As you walk along a row of restaurants, you decide to put on your augmented reality glasses to see ratings , a video greeting from the restaurant owner and interactive displays of their daily specials. However, as you look closer at the restaurant, you notice a virtual advertisement and coupon from a competing restaurant just a few blocks away. Touching the advertisement, you're then given animated directions to the establishment, the virtual coupon and video recommendations from the competing chef. Your decision on where to eat has just been made for you.

Sound like science fiction? Not really. As augmented reality and location-based services continue to evolve, companies will need to start thinking about their ownership rights in virtual space.

Right now, the technology exists to tag virtual information onto a physical location in a very basic form. You can use an augmented reality mobile application such as Tagwhat that knows your general location (based on GPS) and you can access consumer generated information (videos, images, etc.) specific to that area. But as the U.S. government launches its next-generation GPS system, we're looking at future GPS accuracy that will be "less than a meter". The only question remaining will be if the government will allow this type of precision for civilian use and subsequently, new location-based systems.

Nothing right now is preventing companies from delivering virtual advertisements on a physical competitors' presence. Physical presence is defined by square footage and boundaries of your building and other rights that might be granted to you property-wise. But where do rights to your space begin and end in an augmented world?

Geofencing is one step in the right direction as it allows for a virtual boundary for your physical location. This would allow you to potentially defend competitors from digitally tagging your physical property based on current laws, but what about 50 feet above your property? We tend to think of physical boundaries on an X and Y plane but where does your space end on a Z plane? How will public virtual space be defined and monetized as well?

Pillsbury Law Firm has recently started a division that is specifically setup to help define law in virtual and augmented space. James Gatto, leader of Pillsbury's Virtual Worlds & Video Game Team, has been working with clients to help protect them from the potential issues mentioned above. "In emerging fields like virtual worlds and augmented reality, it is important to understand the unique legal issues these new technologies can represent. Real world laws will need to be redefined to bring order out of the potential chaos an augmented or virtual world will usher in for unprepared companies."

A recent exhibit at MoMA in New York allowed people to view augmented art works via a layer app on their smartphones. Though not seen by the naked eye, these virtual works of art could be seen in an Augmented View in the exhibition space. You might also recall a recent battle between Audi and BMW through the use of physical billboards across from each other.

Imagine how this advertising battle could escalate in an augmented world with virtual ads targeted to specific customers. It's important for companies to start thinking about all of this now because an augmented world is closer to becoming a reality than many of us are prepared for.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Szymczyk is CEO of Zugara, an interactive marketing agency based in Los Angeles. Zugara is a member of the AR Consortium and oversees the largest AR community on Facebook. He tweets at @kobrakai.
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