3 legal issues in metaverse need to be navigated: Harassment, data and ownership

Molly Babeh

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The metaverse is the next version of the internet, but it will be different from its predecessor. Avatars are expected to represent us in this cyber space, usually through Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality devices.

We are already experiencing the real-world implications of virtual reality, through how we behave, how we live our lives and how we shop. This is going to cause regulators a lot of headaches in the future without the metaverse expanding.

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Here is some helpful information on three of the main legal areas that may prove tricky to regulate.

How we act and work in the digital world

A lot of reports have surfaced about avatar-gumping and even digital gang activity related to sexual harassment in the metaverse. Whether this will be tried as a virtual assault has yet to be determined though. In the online world, proving assault and harassment can be difficult because most countries' laws require actual physical harm in the real world.

Online harassment is not a new phenomenon and can be expected to continue in the future according to Tom Harding, head of Osborne Clarke UK's Games and Interactive Entertainment practice.

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While the metaverse might be mostly made for gaming and socializing, it is clear that we need to adapt our ways of dealing with harassment, as it has the potential to happen in all aspects of life. The metaverse is real and we can experience it right now. It is widely used mostly for gaming and socializing but it's not in a bubble. Harassment knows no boundaries, so it's important to adapt our ways of dealing with it accordingly in order to avoid any future unpleasant surprises.

As VR, AR, and MR increase in popularity, it's important for employers to get an idea of how these mediums can change practices and policies. They should take note of whether bullying or harassment is behavior that would be prevalent in these mediums.

Who can access our data and how will it be used?

The use of headsets and other devices to access the metaverse raises concerns about safety. Developers are working on features that would allow users to disable facial recognition, but there is still a degree of uncertainty with regard to their data. Companies like Meta, Nike and Walmart are looking to the future and exploring opportunities in the metaverse. As such, questions about how they'll use data from users remains undetermined.

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GDPR (Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation) starts the process of enabling data control and potentially could be applied to platforms such as Metaverse.

Intellectual property

The way copyright works in the virtual world is quite different from it does in the real world. Physical property rights are always specified geographically - not legally. This can also cause issues for companies that need to protect their brands in multiple territories. For example, a UK trademark may only cover the EU but not a virtual world.

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With the emergence of NFTs and their use in the metaverse, we will see a proliferation of issues around property ownership. The lack of digital blockchain ledgers for ownership tracking hinders future growth in this area. This is especially true as there are more than one metaverse, so you can't bring items from these worlds to other virtual worlds. Doing so would cause IP infringements and this will not be tolerated.