Property Rights and The Metaverse

SecureWeb3 has discussed the nature of crypto offerings on the closed metaverse platforms such as Decentraland and The Sandbox. As with any environment, virtual or physical the laws of copyright apply.  As these are distributed networks it is not immediately obvious where assets are held.  The nature of Blockchain means that this is not a major problem as long as control of the Blockchain is in responsible hands.  According to the terms of use of Decentraland:

‘12.1 All title, ownership and Intellectual Property Rights in and to the Site and the Tools are owned exclusively by the Foundation or its licensors. The Foundation holds these Intellectual Property Rights for the benefit of the Decentraland community as a whole. You acknowledge and agree that the Site and Tools contains proprietary and confidential information that is protected by applicable intellectual property and other laws.’

Licensor is further defined:

‘”Licensor” shall mean the copyright owner or entity authorized by the copyright owner that is granting the License.’

These terms seem to be primarily aimed at restricting the copying of original content out of the Metaverse and its use elsewhere on the web.  Any content within their system is copyright to Decentraland or to the original creator that put it onto the Blockchain.  It would be the ultimate responsibility of Decentraland to police this.  The Sandbox has similar policies but with the following caveat:

‘I believe my copyright or trademark has been violated by a user of The Sandbox’s platform. What can I do?  Sorry to hear about this.  The Sandbox is a User-Generated Content (UGC) Metaverse. Content is mainly uploaded to the platform by individual users, not by The Sandbox itself. The responsibility of any content uploaded to The Sandbox’s platform rests solely with the independent individual who uploaded said content.’

Although a responsible Metaverse controller will use AI and human investigation to look out for infringements any system will benefit from reporting suspicious content.   Neither The Sandbox nor Decentraland have an obvious user-facing infringement reporting engine.  It is up to the user to evidence any possible cases and follow the DMCA route to take down the content.  Such items would probably be NFTs on the Blockchain.  As the chain itself is immutable it might not be possible to remove the content but it can certainly be made invisible and not available to users within the Metaverse.

Content creators in The Sandbox have already launched NFT avatars with themes and obviously linked graphics such as ‘Care Bears’, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and ‘Paris Hilton’.  It can be assumed that these are all officially licensed because of their prominence in the offering although this is not stated for any of these cases.  A deep delve into the Metaverse content could reveal clear infringements.  These would involve theft of brand or trademark images.  Infringement of common product names or trademarks are relatively easy to identify.  Creators will know this and make use of similar names or popular abbreviations.  Their work needs to be similar enough to the original to attract traffic (and hopefully income) yet not so similar as to be refused addition to the Metaverse.  This type of content threatens the brand not only by drawing away potential income but also making content available that may not be of high quality or linked to information or activities detrimental to the brand.

Graphics can be compromised not only through naming but through their innate appearance.  Clear copies are an obvious infringement.  A derived image is equally unacceptable.  Images could be partly the work of an AI image creation engine which itself has sourced data without permission of the original author.  These are all cases of copyright theft.  Putting data onto a Metaverse engine does not constitute ‘fair use’.

At present it is largely the responsibility of the brand owner to monitor activities within the Metaverse.  The engine creators can only be relied upon to take down the most obvious infringements.  A brand protection strategy needs to be monitoring these engines and acting upon suspected infringements.

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