METAVERSE – IPR EQUIVALENCY
Author: ASHISH GUPTA, LL.M(IPR) from GUJARAT NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, GANDHINAGAR.
Facebook recently rebranded as Meta, making it a multinational technology company which focused on the future, which can be understood from the Greek translation of the term ‘meta’, which is ‘beyond’ or ‘after’. The popular name of Metaverse being associated with Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg is a different concept of a virtual world. Meta will enable its users to make avatars on Metaverse in order to socialise in an alternate realm or reality. This proves as an opportunity for many IP owners who have a certain brand associated with a distinguishable copyright or trademark, and can use this platform to enhance their reach to people who are invested in making a digital world presence as opposed to in real life and are yet to come across their brands.
However, as easy it is for the IP owners to increase their presence in Metaverse, if any IP owner is not aware of this platform, they run the risk of unauthorized use of their IP, or in a worst-case scenario, the risk of unregistered IP to be used in Metaverse by any user who makes commercial use of it. Unauthorized use of IPs such as Trademarks in games in fictional mode is an already existing precedent, as seen in the case of E.S.S. Entertainment 2000, Inc. V. Rock Star Videos, Inc., wherein the renowned video game GTA used the banners of a club in their game without acquiring appropriate licenses and permissions. Hence, the establishment of Metaverse, which is going to be booming as we further stray away from real life, is a wake-up call for many IP owners to register their IPs, and then further grant licenses for authorized use of it so that they have economic benefits from Metaverse.
It is critical for every party interested in experimenting in the metaverse today to create explicit IP licence agreements with the metaverse platform provider. Typical terms such as term, area, and royalty rates are crucial in any IP licence, but the scope of the licence should be given special consideration. It is critical to scope the IP licence to accommodate for broad use and predict future uses.
Without mutually granted IP rights, a brand owner may find themselves in a scenario where they are granted certain rights to a digital product but are unable to exploit those rights in the future.
Obtaining registered rights through an old-school strategy to prohibiting unauthorised use of a brand, has its place, but it may not be sufficient in all instances — notably in the metaverse. By establishing usage limitations, brands can reduce the risk of reputational damage caused by unintended brand connotations.
Recognition of Law
Another grey area regarding the IPR regime in relation to the Metaverse is that, what laws will be applicable on the virtual world platform, and who will be the authority to be approached for any dispute relating such unauthorized use of IP. It is ideal that Meta or Metaverse setup their own guidelines for them to take cognizance of any violation, and that laws which are applicable on the user in real life, be applicable on any violation. But it remains to be seen, as what laws will Metaverse adhere to, and how stringent those regulations are to make sure IP owners are not compromised by unauthorized use.
The metaverse is code at its core: ones and zeros covered with incomprehensibly enormous amounts of data. The programmer(s) put in a lot of time and effort to create software. Because the main objective of software is to make processes easier, it is critical to value the work's creation and safeguard it in the name of the creator. It is to be understood that every aspect of metaverse is essentially has its roots in real life IP of different people. Engineers coding a certain unique way are making avatars, are using clothes of a certain idea, which will be someone else’s IP, or have a look or voice of a distinct or a famous personality which could be an IP of that person.
Section 2 (ffc) of the Copyright Act 1957, which defines "computer programme" as "a set of instructions expressed in words, codes, schemes, or any other form, including a machine readable medium, capable of causing a computer to perform a particular task or achieve a particular result," when read with section 2(o) of the Copyright Act 1957, which defines "literary works" as "computer programmes, tables, and compilations, including computer databases," protects software or a computer database.
Whenever a software application is filed in the copyright office for registration, the applicant shows the copy of the source code and the object code, which in a way is the expression and art of the applicant.
Therefore, it can be concluded that Copyright law can be understood to apply on Metaverse aspects and activities conducted in this digital world once it is launched in India and legal framework is decided to be implemented on this platform. As per the law, Copyright exists with the IP Creator who has created that particular work as stated under Section 17 of the Copyright Act of 1957. The coders can be known as the IP creator, and they will have to pay royalties for other IP used in an avatar, such as likeness of a person, clothes, distinctive features and etc.
The technological breakthroughs required for a true metaverse will be enormous – the metaverse would require hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of digital avatars interacting with one another. To give this a scale, popular video games can currently only handle up to 150 people in a single virtual environment.
While the emergence of a true metaverse is no longer a "if," but rather a "when", owing to the different countries, the manner in which the metaverse will evolve over time is unclear. In a dystopian future, some predict that a single business will be able to build and own the metaverse. In the IP perspective, this seems like a positive start for the IP owners in the metaverse realm, and as time passes, more clarity will be provided owing to the glaring IP issues that will crop up and owners, lawyers interested in the metaverse would want to continue to keep an eye on these developments closely.