With the recent rebranding of a certain social media giant, the word “metaverse” has started cropping up more and more in various contexts, from social media, fashion, to education. In essence, the metaverse seeks to build on the internet and embody individuals within it. Rather than accessing the internet in 2D via multiple specific platforms with their own USP and through a physical barrier such as a screen, the metaverse allows individuals to immerse themselves among the multiple layers of the virtual world, with these layers mapped onto the physical world, creating a much more 3D experience.
It is the natural evolution of how people interact online, and seeks to broaden the current virtual experience: it offers a new space for every aspect of the everyday world. There are already examples of how entertainment, media, fashion, sport, work and commerce can interplay with the metaverse. In a post-pandemic world, it’s a new and immersive way to bring people together.
The perception that the metaverse is only relevant to gamers is outdated – its relevance is now recognized as being so much wider than that. In some industries, the move to the metaverse has already started, with immersive experiences beginning to materialize among many different platforms. Some business meetings are already held in virtual boardrooms, with avatars representing their human counterparts from all corners of the world. With sustainability and climate change at the top of agendas, and the metaverse not restrained by offline resourcing, businesses can allow for sustainable growth through multiple layers that the real world is struggling to meet.
Digital assets such as “virtual real estate” are also becoming increasingly valuable: Recent examples include virtual space being sold for material, real-life sums, and an auction house establishing their virtual presence for visiting, viewing, and buying artwork.
Some luxury brands are already leveraging existing virtual platforms and building their immersive brands. The aim is to facilitate people expressing themselves online just as they would in the offline word, but through skins and digital items of clothing. Today’s businesses need to consider replicating themselves to capitalize on the consumer’s willingness to participate – they are buying virtual handbags, limited edition digital shoes, and other virtual goods. By partnering with metaverse platforms, brands can therefore merge physical and virtual commerce in a whole new way. And, of course, the general upshot is raising brand awareness - which can also drive traffic to traditional bricks and mortar shops.
Digital commerce has transformed how we shop and interact, and as technology generally moves much faster than the law, organizations’ general counsel are likely to face a huge challenge of applying conventional laws and regulations to deal with the new legal questions raised by the metaverse. How do you provide conveyancing for virtual property? What agreement is in place for the return of digital shoes? Who owns the IP for non-physical goods, and how do you handle piracy, or data privacy when the consumer’s location is not that easily established?
Familiar legal fields of ownership, licensing, use and piracy will meet new data sets (personal or otherwise), goods and content, ledgers and tokens, creating questions for those looking to benefit from the metaverse.
With the technology being so nascent, brands have the opportunity to create and define the space. Businesses can seek to understand the new marketplace, different demographics within the space, and reimagine the value they can provide. By adopting early, brands can entrench and build credibility with the growing communities. Brands should be thinking of how they can instill brand loyalty through the real world and virtual touch points, and the metaverse provides the space for both.
This is also an opportunity for the GC to get involved from the start, to anticipate likely virtual legal issues based on ‘real world’ legal issues. Getting ahead of any legal challenges will put the business in a much better position for protecting the business’s reputation (and its crypto currency) later on.