Every couple of months, I get absorbed by tech twitter. Sometimes it’s a waste of time (annoying threads, weird tweetstorms, too many VCs) - but other times, it makes me think a lot about the intersection between law and tech.
Not in the ‘FAANG keeps getting sued’ kind of way, but in a ‘wow, we aren’t thinking enough about how law applies to Web 3.0’ kind of way.
Most recently, I’ve been doing some reading around the metaverse and wanted to jot down a few ideas on how it could challenge the legal status quo.
What is the metaverse?
This paragraph by Digiday
is a nice primer for newbies:
The Metaverse is a “successor state” to the modern internet, with all the same content but fewer limitations as to where and how that content can be accessed. Current online platforms allow users to move about somewhat freely within the confines of specific services, but limit interoperability
between platforms: you can build anything in “Minecraft,” but you can’t transfer your creations into a “Fortnite” map. The Metaverse will allow users to generate their own content and distribute it freely throughout a widely accessible digital world.
Although games like Fornite often take the limelight during these types of discussions, the metaverse extends way beyond gaming.
Think of it as a persistent bridge between digital environments and the physical world that you can travel back and forth on - a bridge that will let you, for example, step into a virtual Apple store to buy digital mock-ups of products that are then delivered to your physical home, in real life.
Although we’re pretty far from a bona fide Metaverse, the possibility of a synthetic reality opens a Pandora’s box of provocative legal questions. A few that come to mind:
Which privacy rules apply in the metaverse? For example, I live in the UK. How is the Data Protection Act, which applies to UK residents, supposed to work if I’m an avatar in a virtual environment? Applying data protection laws - which already struggle to operate effectively within a plain Jane vanilla internet - to a live, digital, interoperable experience is unspeakably difficult.
Trademarks. With the blurring of virtual and real worlds, how far can we go in using real-world trademarks in digital environments that simulate the real world? How viable would it even be to catch every trademark infringement?
Interoperability. Each company e.g. Facebook and Twitter set out their IP provisions in their terms and services. But the increased interactivity across services in the metaverse will probably blur the lines between where one service begins and another ends - making untangling IP ownership a tricky process.
There’s a lot more to say about this, and perhaps I’ll write out a special issue on the metaverse sometime soon to flesh out these thoughts, but it’s a brave new world. One that may prove a stretch too far for current legal frameworks.