Metaverses could be a hub for distributing copyrighted work illegally — UK researchers


Researchers in the United Kingdom have studied the viability of current intellectual property (IP) laws and their application to new technologies like the metaverse. In the study, the researchers identified the shortcomings of existing laws and presented their recommendations. 

On March 7, the U.K. government published an externally commissioned research report titled “IP and Metaverse.” The report dove into the existing literature on IP laws and how they can apply to the metaverse. Within the study, the researchers concluded that there are metaverse-specific IP issues, such as IP governance in an interoperable environment and regulating technologies like the blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) within virtual worlds.

According to the report, many legal challenges come with interoperability, including the unauthorized dissemination of copyrighted work. The researchers highlighted that the lack of interoperability has been important in preventing people from illegally distributing copyrighted material. With interoperability being a key feature in a metaverse, the researchers believe this could pose a challenge in governing the use and circulation of copyrighted work.

Meanwhile, blockchain’s inherent characteristics, such as immutability or being “tamper-proof,” also pose a challenge to enforcing IP laws. The researchers wrote:

“Blockchain’s inherent resistance to change or correction undermines the ability to flexibly manage or update IP rights. This is an issue which becomes especially worrisome in the context of ownership disputes, as well as for navigating the termination of agreements and rights if licensors or rightholders seek to leave the Metaverse.”

However, AI use in the potential metaverse governance of IP also poses some anticipated challenges. The researchers argued that algorithmic management of infringements is “extremely vulnerable to misuse” because of the absence of human oversight to guarantee the legitimacy of enforcement.

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Apart from this, AI-generated content also brings up another challenge for IP enforcement in the metaverse. According to the study, reliance on AI tools has the potential to invalidate claims of inventorship in content. The research highlighted examples and cases that showed that “only works partially assisted by AI” are able to be protected by IP laws.

Because of the anticipated issues in IP governance within the metaverse, the researchers concluded that there’s a need for clarity on a “plethora of key issues.” This includes legal issues on copyrights, trademarks, patents, designs, user-generated content, virtual property and nonfungible tokens (NFTs) within the metaverse. Because of this, the researchers believed that it’s necessary to formulate IP approaches for addressing governance and enforcement issues for a metaverse.

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