METAVERSE- A LEGAL MINEFIELD

So seriously, what is the “Metaverse”? Here's an experiment to help you understand how nebulous and convoluted the term "metaverse" may be: In a statement, mentally replace the words "the metaverse" with "cyberspace." Ninety percent of the time, the meaning will not vary significantly. This is because the phrase refers to a broad shift in how we engage with technology rather than a single form of technology. Even when the specific technology it originally described becomes mainstream, it's very feasible that the name may become obsolete as well.

According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, his concept of the metaverse isn't that far from how video games work now. He said in an interview with the Financial Times-

It's all about making games in the Metaverse. It's about being able to put people, places, and things in a physics engine, and then having all of those people, places, and things interact with one another. Soon, you and I will be seated at a conference table with our avatars, holograms, or even 2D surfaces with surround sound.”


WHO SUPPORTS IT?

Several large IT corporations have already jumped on the metaverse bandwagon, though their perspectives vary. Facebook and other social media corporations are among the most vocal proponents today, claiming that the technology will alter how many of us socialise by the end of this decade. To symbolise its commitment to the metaverse, the corporation changed its name to Meta.

The metaverse's ambitions aren't limited to escapism and creating communal encounters. Through Microsoft Teams, Microsoft believes that the metaverse can make remote work more personal. Meanwhile, video game producers like Epic Games seek to create distinct worlds that go beyond what is conceivable in the actual world. Finally, proponents of decentralised technologies assert that they can permit digital ownership as well as complete virtual economies.


HOW LONG BEFORE WE GET INTO THE METAVERSE?

Even while some of the essential building pieces exist today, it's reasonable to think that we're a few years away from the metaverse that most marketing materials offer. Despite the fact that virtual reality headsets have gotten more inexpensive in recent years, they remain a niche product. Meanwhile, augmented reality technology, such as Ray-Stories Ban's eyewear, has yet to attain technological maturity, let alone cost and widespread appeal.

Decentraland, on the other hand, is a virtual world built on top of the decentralised Ethereum network, which means that rather than being owned by a single corporation, the platform is mostly controlled by its users. To explore Decentraland's 3D world, attend festivals, and play games within the cosmos, all you need is a web browser. It also has a peer-to-peer marketplace where you can purchase and sell virtual land plots using Mana, the company's native cryptocurrency.

Samsung has its own Decentraland space, called 837X. It's based on the company's flagship headquarters in New York City, and includes a theatre for launch events such as Samsung Unpacked.


LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

Many of the legal difficulties that exist in connection with the metaverse are standard intellectual property issues that aren't unique to the metaverse, but many of them have a distinctive twist due to the tech law's uncharted legal territory in India.

The metaverse will have legal ramifications as well. Collaboration and interoperability among metaverse authors will be one difficulty. Each metaverse should be available from all devices and headsets if the goal of the metaverse is to allow individuals to interact in a digital world. This could mean that technology companies must agree to certain metaverse standards in order to collaborate with other creators, or that each company must adhere to the technological constraints imposed by its predecessors and licence the rights to use another company's underlying technology in order to build its own metaverse.


IPR DISPUTES

Ownership disputes over the underlying intellectual property will be frequent and contentious, with billions of dollars riding on the outcome. A synopsis of the many theories that will be litigated is provided below.

1. Patents- It makes no difference whether the later infringing idea is independently conceived, unlike copyright law (explained below). There will be ongoing debates over whether a metaverse patent is infringed by other technology, especially given how quickly the technology evolves, because distinguishing a "new" invention from a simple tweak of an existing one will be difficult. To add to the fun, in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, it was decided in 2014 that software implementation of an escrow arrangement was not patentable because it was an embodiment of an "abstract idea." You can expect that whoever is accused of infringing on a metaverse patent will claim that the patented innovation is an "abstract notion" that isn't patentable.


2. Copyright- There will be mountains of litigation over whether copyrighted metaverse software has been violated by other software, just as there has been with all other software conflicts (think Google vs. Oracle). The Copyright Act safeguards the proprietor of an original work from unauthorised copies. Critically, there is a defence known as "fair use" that, in principle, covers some copying by balancing specific considerations outlined in the legislation. However, in practise, it all comes down to what a particular judge or jury considers "fair," so relying on the fair use argument is rarely a good idea. Owners of structures that appear in the metaverse cannot make copyright claims for such use, which is important for any metaverse that includes cityscapes.


3. Trademark- Unauthorized use of a trademark in a way that leads a reasonable consumer to assume that the trademark owner I was the source of the goods or (ii) approved or promoted such goods is prohibited under trademark law. What if, as is almost certain, the metaverse allows you to drive a Ferrari and wear a Bijan suit? Will you believe Ferrari or Bijan invented (unlikely) or sponsored (maybe) the metaverse? This is a far cry from seeing a Ferrari race across the screen in a movie, and while some brands have sued for such use in movies, they have all failed because the public believes the movie was not produced or supported by Ferrari. If the metaverse allows people to interact with the product, especially if the user must pay virtual or real money to use it, the brands should have a lot more traction. In that situation, the outcome should be similar to the sale of toy Ferraris, which requires a Ferrari licence.


CONTRACTS

Who owns metaverse rights under current contracts formed before the metaverse was even thought of will be a major battleground in the contract arena? This will be analogous to the fights over who owns VOD (Video-on-demand) rights under contracts written before those rights existed. For instance, depending on how the contract is worded, a studio that granted video game rights to a gaming firm may be able to claim ownership of the metaverse rights. It will be necessary in the future to create contracts with scalpel-like accuracy to determine who owns which metaverse rights.


CLAIMS BY USERS AGAINST METAVERSE COMPANIES

Users will file a slew of claims against metaverse corporations, especially for personal injuries. The metaverse necessitates the use of a head-mounted display (HMD), as the user is unable to perceive their true surroundings. They could trip and tumble down the stairs or through a window if they try to walk around at home. There may even be a few heart attacks because the metaverse can be so genuine and terrifying that 30% of participants couldn't make it across a room with a simulated tightrope walk between the twin buildings

Even if there are no physical injuries, there will be a slew of class actions for violations of privacy or data mining regulations, as well as damages following the inevitable hacking of personal or credit card data. Because certain metaverse corporations will scan the user's face and body dimensions, know what they want to look at via eye tracking, and sell that information to advertisers, privacy concerns will be particularly acute.

It will be critical for metaverse enterprises to have comprehensive enforceable terms of service for users that cover all of these issues, including mandatory arbitration and class action waivers, in order to limit potential liability for claims by users. In order for the terms of service to be binding, the user must be compelled to open and click-through acceptance of the terms of service, according to case law applicable to online contracts.


CLAIMS BY A USER AGAINST ANOTHER USER

Claims by users against other users for various wicked actions committed in the metaverse are my favourite category, so I've kept it for last. Every conceivable crime and tort that may be done in the actual world can also be perpetrated in the metaverse, especially when multiple individuals are involved. There have already been reports of virtual item theft that may be traded for virtual or real money, as well as sexual groping by one avatar of another that caused significant emotional distress to the person who was playing the groped character. What would happen if one avatar raped another and the user suffered from PTSD as a result? What if it was a serial offender who was known to the metaverse corporation?

Hence, we see there shall be a considerable number of issues to fix, before the metaverse can actually become capable of building virtual economies and functioning them properly, hence, it is important for the legal world to explore the arena of tech law in its depth and work closely with meta developing companies so as to make the metaverse environment, a safe space for everyone.



This article is written by Mohd Saqib Husain, of Lloyd Law College.

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