The Metaverse: Lots Of Big Legal Questions And Virtually Zero Answers
The Metaverse evokes utopian visions of an escape from reality or a life lived online. But for now, it's still just interactive gaming or networking spaces that does not have the rules or laws necessary to manage its full potential.
The term Metaverse is believed to have first appeared in Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash, published in 1992. It is a universe that imitates our own while functioning on the basis of agreed rules. The expression is widely used today in many languages to refer to those spaces that allow the interaction of human beings and computer programs.
Its proponents point to its potential for the virtual world to create a parallel reality that offers people to live a second virtual life.
Yet for all the innovative promise, this new digital frontier is still governed by the same rules as the old physical world.
There is no consensus on what exactly constitutes the Metaverse, but these virtual spaces share certain characteristics. They are virtual or digital, and allow the interplay of people who can, with regulated freedom, interact through alter egos, personae, drawn figures, avatars or pseudonyms. These are created with tools provided by the programmer of the virtual space.
How will the Metaverse deal with intellectual property?
The Metaverse itself does not depend on users to exist. Generally, these are private and potentially numerous spaces, so it would be wrong to refer to the Metaverse as a single, undivided space.
Many of these spaces are essentially games, like Fortnite, or they offer multiple gaming options, like Roblox. We also see settings like MetaMetaverse or Open Sea, which allow the creation of multiple spaces and simultaneous participation inside.
The Metaverse has become a challenge and an opportunity for intellectual property. In certain spaces, you can buy clothes by recognized brands. Or there is so-called "catfishing," which is anonymous misuse of a real personal identity, and fraud and falsifications. In other words, the Metaverse hosts all the vices, virtues, and same practices of the real world, depending on its users.
In the Metaverse, users can be included, excluded, erased or censored if rules are broken.
Who will control the Metaverse?
There are currently no specific norms governing the Metaverse per se. If one steals a person's identity there, one is liable to the same penalties as in real life. If you exploit a name or brand without the owner's authorization, or plagiarize, the offense is the same in the virtual and real worlds.
One particular consideration, however, is that Metaverse spaces are absolutely under the control and supervision of their creators. Users can be included, excluded, erased or censored if rules are broken. You enter a Metaverse by clicking on an agreement clause that is changed regularly and unilaterally. This turns an online reprimand, or exclusions, into early tools of regulation in Metaverses, without legal action or state intervention.
Metaverse creators and administrators are effectively all-powerful rulers. They discern or interpret an infraction or offense and act accordingly, even if this is seen as arbitrary. Still, reading about the Metaverse gives little of its feel and flavor: better to enter and play.
*Acosta is a law lecturer and partner in the Bogotá law firm OlarteMoure
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