Augmented Reality Threatens Physical Property Rights

We’ve seen what digital media has done to intellectual property rights: rampant copyright infringement, countless lawsuits, and the rise of Creative Commons as a mainstream license. But what’s digital media going to do to physical property rights, such as real estate?

Sounds sensational, I know, but as the web grows increasingly mobile, and augmented reality seeps into real reality brings us to new levels (pun intended) of being wired in, businesses and individuals will face new challenges in defending their property rights. As Matthew Szymczyk recently pointed out for Ad Age augmented reality technology will further erode the control that brands have over their message. Specifically, it can open up their brick & mortar space to advertising from their competitors.

As you walk along a row of restaurants, you decide to put on your augmented reality glasses to see ratings […] 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.

Indeed, a whole can of legal worms for brands, advertisers, and property law altogether. And currently, there is nothing that prevents companies from delivering virtual advertisements on a competitor’s physical space because physical presence is defined by the boundaries of square footage. As Szymczyk illustrates:

We tend to think of physical boundaries on an X and Y plane but where does your space end on a Z plane?

Of course, as Szymczyk also reports, lawyers have already begun to tackle these issues. And while I’m sure we can expect to hear plenty of outrage from both advertisers and property owners in coming years, we can also expect rules, laws and guidelines to fall into place over the next decade.

But there are plenty of questions this brings up that the lawyers won’t be able to answer for us, such as:

  • What will this mean for display advertising?
  • Will it get more personalized?
  • Will it feel like cyber-stalking?
  • Will it become performance-based?
  • And what about visual pollution?
  • What about trademark protection?
  • Will it get worse? Or only for those with augmented reality on?

Maybe only time will tell, but for those with their concerned about their brand, ad spend, aesthetic or property rights, these are all pertinent concerns.

About CT Moore

A former Staff Editor here at, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over a decade experience leveraging search, social media, and content marketing to help brands meet their business goals online. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to start-ups, SMBs, enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed Inc.. CT is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

11 Responses to Augmented Reality Threatens Physical Property Rights

  1. I'm thinking initially it will be too much noise, and AR will not be that effective. Eventually, as personal preferences are taken into consideration, it may be more targeted, and therefore useful.

    Then again, people will still want to stroll down the street and take in the smells of a restaurant.


    • CT Moore says:

      I agree that it will bring up too much noise, but I think that @darkflame has a point (below) that "People will subscribe to layers/channels of interest."

  2. darkflame says:

    No one has exclusive rights to associate data with a particular set of co-ordinates. That idea is madness.
    Just as anyone can scribble on a map, so anyone can in AR.

    What isnt likely though is everyone will see things "all at once". People will subscribe to layers/channels of interest – anyone else will result in too much noise.
    Channels/Layers with too much intrusive adverts arn't going to be used as much as clearn/usefull ones, so some degree its self-filtering too.

  3. Drew says:

    It seems to me that the new wave of property rights infringement is another example of the growing vale we have assigned to marketing and sales. We now live in a society where we love to be sold to, marketed at, and data minded. It used to be that privacy was the most important thing, now to them… it's just a nuance that will take I'd say a couple of more years then we will never hear that word again.

    Look at modern architecture for example: a sign of the times, everything is giant windows – see through, as apparently we are coming to the second age of enlightenment where everything is supposed to be open, and if you are private… well, you're an introvert, and we have medication for that.

    • CT Moore says:

      I think the best analogy is Brave New World. I think it predicted modern times much better than 1984 and its version of Big Brother.

      In BNW, everyone is a hyper-consumer who's defined by their career path and is encouraged to be promiscuous while enjoying recreational pharmaceuticals. Sound familiar?

  4. Pat Grady says:

    i sell rugs online, but what if people buy virtual rugs instead… maybe i start selling those too… but wait, those immersed in VR/AR have a virtual house too… so how much do i charge them for not-shipping? and does my virtual warehouse in Texas constitute a sales tax nexus? cuz i'm thinking i'll just move it to Floatsville, Imagiland to avoid that without raising my actual shipping costs one iota.

    if a competitor posts a virtual ad in another's store, does that virtually constitute a nexus…

    coffee time.

  5. Marianne Filion says:

    Is there anything that marketers won't do? It's becoming clear that there's not.

    And forget about businesses. What can I do to prevent marketers from slapping an add on my house? This is bordering on insane!

  6. Benjamin Wright says:

    Property owners like hotels will prefer to control the data that is published about their property. Owners will attempt to publish contracts that restrict the right of an app to overlay data on images of their property. What do you think? –Ben