By Michaela Fuller

 

The company formerly known as Facebook announced last month that it has rebranded as “Meta”—a shorthand representative of the company’s venture into the still-developing virtual reality world called the Metaverse.[1] The company isn’t the first big brand to dip their toes into the VR game, but Facebook’s switch to Meta signifies to many that a big change in our digital society is approaching quicker than once thought, leaving other companies rushing to get an early in.[2]

Put simply, Metaverse is a term that describes “the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.”[3] Described as the “ultimate culmination of virtual reality and augmented reality,”[4] the Metaverse is our society’s actual advancement toward science fiction worlds like those from Ready Player One, Tron, or even The Matrix.[5]

Meta pronounced its vision for the Metaverse as “a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world.”[6] The company claims its mission is “to bring the metaverse to life and help people connect, find communities and grow businesses.”[7] Yet however simple the goal may be, the legal implications embedded in the journey to the Metaverse are as enumerable as they are complex.

To many, one of the most glaring issues presented by the creation of Meta as a company is a question of antitrust policy. First Facebook acquires Instagram, WhatsApp, and several other smaller companies, and now Facebook establishes itself as a subsidiary of the new company Meta. Such “company-shopping” has been warned against by the Federal Trade Commission, [8] yet the creation of the entirely new digital world that is the Metaverse will likely open the doors for other companies to follow in Meta’s footsteps in order to get a piece of the (what predicts to be a very profitable[9]) pie.

Of course, topics like data protection and user privacy are key issues to be discussed and regulated with the creation of any new technology, and the Metaverse is certainly no exception.[10] Such an unprecedented development is “practically begging to become a staging ground for data privacy attacks” that companies like Meta will have to be able to protect its users against before expecting a successful launch.[11]

The individualized structure of the Metaverse itself will eventually bring its own set of legal challenges, now likely excited by the creation of Meta. These issues include the “collaboration and interoperability among different metaverse creators,” and technology usage rights and agreements between companies in the Metaverse.[12] Of course, these issues will depend on how companies like Meta will choose to develop the virtual world and its accompanying real-world devices.

The shift to the Metaverse will also bring a slew of intellectual property challenges like “monitoring use of a brand’s trademarks, misappropriation of goods or services, price erosion, and counterfeit goods,” to name a few.[13] The question of authorship with respect to copyright ownership may be also challenged in the Metaverse with the possibility of AI and entirely virtual creators.[14] Issues of brand protection and ownership interests in an entirely virtual world are novel ideas under our current IP regime and are likely going to have to be subject to equally new regulation.

Though the journey to the Metaverse is coming to head quicker than one might have imagined, we still have a way to go (five to ten years, accordingly to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg[15]) before reaching a Ready Player One-style society. In the meantime, lawyers in the areas of antitrust, data protection, technology, and intellectual property—just to name a few—likely have a busy few years ahead.

 

[1]Introducing Meta: A Social Technology Company, Meta (Oct. 28, 2021), https://about.fb.com/news/2021/10/facebook-company-is-now-meta/.

[2] Michael J. Harris et al., The Move to the Metaverse and Beyond Series: Basic Trademark and Branding Considerations, JD Supra (Nov. 2, 2021), https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/the-move-to-the-metaverse-and-beyond-7306577/.

[3] Rahul Kapoor & Shokoh Yaghoubi, A Brief Overview Of The Metaverse And The Legal Challenges It Will Represent, Mondaq (Nov. 3, 2021), https://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/fin-tech/1127424/a-brief-overview-of-the-metaverse-and-the-legal-challenges-it-will-present-.

[4] Id.

[5] Doug Antin, 10 Sci-Fi Stories That Inspire Pioneers of the Metaverse, Medium (June 19, 2020), https://medium.com/predict/10-sci-fi-stories-that-inspire-pioneers-of-the-metaverse-66fd811be218.

[6] Introducing Meta, supra note 1.

[7] Id.

[8] Hugo Guzman, Silicon Legal: Facebook’s Plunge Into ‘Metaverse’ Fuels Legal Questions, Legal Tech News (Nov. 2, 2021, 10:00 AM), https://www.law.com/legaltechnews/2021/11/02/silicon-legal-facebooks-plunge-into-metaverse-fuels-legal-questions/.

[9] See, e.g., Aaron Levitt, 10 Metaverse Stocks for the Future of Technology, Kiplinger (Nov. 8, 2021), https://www.kiplinger.com/investing/stocks/603552/7-metaverse-stocks-for-the-future-of-technology.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Kapoor & Yaghoubi, supra note 3.

[13] Harris et al., supra note 2.

[14] Kapoor & Yaghoubi, supra note 3.

[15] See Veronica Combs, Meta CEO Zuckerberg Predicts the Metaverse Will Be Mainstream in 5-10 Years, TechRepublic (Oct. 28, 2021, 2:00 PM), https://www.techrepublic.com/article/meta-ceo-zuckerberg-predicts-the-metaverse-will-be-mainstream-in-5-10-years/.

Image Source: https://subspace.com/resources/nft-key-metaverse

css.php