Reed Smith In-Depth

Ownership, a legal concept almost as old as humanity, is being tested by the advent of the metaverse - an always-online, persistent, spatial 'second' world. The staggering rise in popularity of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) demonstrates how much appetite there is for a solution capable of replicating the personal ownership once enjoyed in the real world.

Authors: Sophie Goossens

Visual contents concept. Social networking service. Streaming video. communication network.

Metaverses are code.

The advent of the metaverse, an always-online, persistent, spatial ‘second’ world, represents a fundamental shift in our notion of digital frameworks and presence, but Metaverses - literally beyond the universe – are not entirely new concepts. Videogames like the 17-year-old game Second Life, more recent games like Fortnite, Roblox or The Sandbox - a platform where users can buy virtual land and create, play and monetise their creations on the blockchain – may all be labelled early versions of immersive metaverses.

At its core, a metaverse is code: ones and zeros, overlaid with unfathomably vast amounts of data; a manufactured environment in which all assets are synthetic, created and experienced from within. In such a world, everything comes from code. From the clothes our avatars wear to the car that we drive in, our ‘things’ can only exist in the metaverse after being coded.

From a legal standpoint, our immersion in this entirely digital world is posed to challenge a number of legal concepts that have arisen out of the material world, including the fundamental concept of ‘ownership’. Important questions, such as whether virtual assets qualify for ‘ownership’, or whether new forms of ownership will emerge from the metaverse, are going to demand attention from users of the metaverse, and potentially from law makers, as the world transitions into virtual environments.