What is the metaverse? Is the metaverse here, or is it being created? Do we have one metaverse or multiple metaverses? So many questions arise when one is asked to define the term metaverse. Not everyone embraces this term – Roblox, Epic, and Genies use the term metaverse – while others call it live maps, mirrorworld, omniverse, or spatial internet.

We are living in a new digital world that according to Thomas Friedman has; (a) integrated circuits on microchips, (b) memory units to store information, (c) networks that help to enhance communication, (d) software applications that provide a direct link to consumers’ needs, and (e) sensor capacity that allows artificial intelligence to analyse most things which were previously only accessible to the human mind. 

This is the result of ‘technological convergence’, which can be described as the concept of merging, blending, integrating, and transforming independent and previously unrelated technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), big data, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and virtual reality (VR). Joined together, a completely new technology is created, integrating the physical, digital, and virtual worlds.

The metaverse to a certain extent is the culmination of technological convergence. The phrase ‘metaverse’ was initially coined in a 1992 science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson called Snow Crash. ‘Metaverse’ is a combination of the prefix ‘meta’, which means beyond, and ‘universe’.

So, the metaverse is a world beyond the real world or universe. In the metaverse, virtual property, avatars and services can be tokenised, purchased and sold. This is most often done using tokens cryptocurrencies and NFT. This purports to be an online dimension where, through convergence, we have the fusion of virtual assets, virtual financial assets, NFT, DEFI, digital ledger technology, and smart contracts.

The metaverse is the culmination of technological convergence- Ian Gauci

Through the said convergence, the metaverse is touted to have the potential of becoming a universal digital communication platform, replacing the current technology stack of the world wide web operating on top of the internet.

For this to materialise, however, participants within the metaverse will need to be able to supply goods and services in exchange for value recognised by other users, and thus establish a feasible economy within the metaverse.

This economy will prosper and will be underpinned by seamless interoperability and connectivity between different platforms and different users on these platforms in a ubiquitous manner.

The metaverse, although not defined, is already subject to relevant legislative frameworks, such as the privacy and data protection framework, consumer law, competition, information society, and other legislation applicable to the internet, including criminal and civil law.

This notwithstanding, given the revolutionary nature of the metaverse, we anticipate that it is likely to give rise to a range of complex legal and regulatory issues. Truth be told, on February 15, 2022, the European Commission was asked to commission a study on the same lines.

In the past weeks, we have also witnessed important cases involving NFTs and the metaverse. Two of these in particular, (Nike vs StockX  and Hermès vs Rothschild), are already highlighting important factors to consider for people venturing into this space.

IPR is of paramount importance and aside from copyright protection, one should also consider carefully trademark protection in the metaverse with respective registration for both the physical as well as virtual versions of the goods.

As the metaverse pans out and more interactions materialise, we can expect to deal with novel legal concepts, like what we experienced with the inception of the internet and, lately, crypto. The metaverse has the potential to have different layers of business, interactions and values, and thus fuel its own economic model.

Regrettably, no one has a crystal ball, and we are just scraping the surface here, but we need to embrace this metaverse phenomenon with an open mind, ready to learn as we go along, and ultimately build on the experiences and legal structures we have.

Ian Gauci is the managing partner of GTG Advocates and Afilexion Alliance. He advises multiple government bodies and is one of the local key figures on technology law matters.

This article is not intended to impart legal advice and readers are asked to seek verification of statements made before acting on them.

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