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Part 1 of our 5-part series of articles

NFT, Metaverse and Web 3.0 have been around for a long time, but are now more relevant than ever. The legal classification plays an enormous role, especially for lawyers. Which regulations need to be revised? Which new regulations need to be introduced? A 5-part series of articles (GRUR-Prax issues no. 16-17 to 21) from the fields of trademark, copyright, competition and data protection law covers key topics that are relevant in connection with Metaverse. First an overview!

I. Fundamentals

1. What is the metaverse?

The term metaverse is generally used as a generic term for an advanced generation of digital collaboration. More precisely, the metaverse corresponds to a virtual world in which many virtual spaces exist side by side and are connected to each other at the same time. The metaverse is therefore part of Web 3.0.

2. What is Web 3.0?

Web 3.0. can be translated as the third generation of the Internet. In contrast to Web 1.0. and Web 2.0., it is organised decentrally and is based on blockchain technology. In Web 3.0, content is generated and continuously improved by a technology.

II. Core elements of Web 3.0

1. Blockchain technology

A blockchain is a decentrally organised and non-manipulable register. This register enables transactions to be recorded and facilitates the tracking of digital goods. For each transaction, a data block is recorded that is linked to previous and subsequent data blocks. Once recorded, these data blocks can no longer be changed – this chain of transactions is known as a blockchain. It forms the basis for NFTs and cryptocurrencies, for example.

2. NFTs?

NFT is the abbreviation for “non fungible token”. A token is a digital proof of ownership that is stored as a data record in a blockchain database. First, a data record is created on the blockchain and linked to the tokenised product (“asset”). The NFT is then assigned to a blockchain network (“minter”) and can now be transferred to other people. When you buy an NFT product, you therefore acquire a token in the database.

3. Semantic web and AI

Artificial intelligence (“AI”) imitates human cognitive abilities by recognising and processing information from data records. Computers do not always have to be reprogrammed. Instead, an AI can make predictions independently. The Semantic Web now serves not only to link information in Web 3.0, but also to provide network content with machine-readable metadata in order to optimise the exchange of information on the web.

4. Points of contact with the metaverse

The term “metaverse” first appeared in 1992 with the novel “Snowcrash” by Neal Stephenson. Today, Facebook proclaims the metaverse as a model for the future. But virtual worlds are already a reality in everyday life too. When we go to the cinema (Tron, Avatar, Matrix), we are immersed in a 3D world. In computer games (Minecraft, Roblox, Fortnite), we can move around with avatars and network across national borders. The rapid pace of technological progress and increasing digital expertise are ensuring broad acceptance of the metaverse.

III. Marketing potential

The linking of real and digital goods with the help of NFTs promises great potential, especially in the art, fashion and gaming scene. In the future, we could use avatars to hold business meetings or attend concerts. Physical objects such as clothing could be tried on in a virtual shop and ordered as real goods. The metaverse has the potential to establish significant marketplaces within the “Web 3.0 platforms”. So far, the market has been characterised by speculation, making forecasts difficult.

IV. Metaverse and law

The legal framework must also be adapted to the use of virtual spaces in order to continue to protect intellectual property and industrial property rights. In copyright law, questions arise as to whether and how NFTs, virtual spaces etc. are protected by copyright and who is entitled to the intellectual property rights. However, the question of the extent to which AI products should enjoy copyright protection is also the subject of intense debate. In trade mark protection, attention is already being paid to protecting trade marks in virtual spaces. In order to extend protection to digital goods, existing trade marks are being rewritten. Finally, the extent to which information from the use of environments qualifies as personal data is also problematic from a data protection perspective. Enforcing the law is particularly difficult. As the metaverse is organised decentrally, it could become problematic to attribute infringements that take place in virtual environments to a specific legal system.


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Part 2 in issue 18/2023: Copyright law

Part 3 in issue 19/2023: Contract and competition law

Part 4 in issue 20/2023: Trade mark law

Part in issue 21/2023: Data protection