If it takes off, the Metaverse will be like the Big Bang. Life, as we know it, may not be the same again.
The Metaverse promises to make reality virtual by allowing us to move online in a more holistic way—think Facebook’s Horizon Workrooms. Perhaps more excitingly, the Metaverse promises to make the virtual a reality—think digital assets, the creation of virtual cities, malls, real estate, etc that have real-world value.
But the seismic change will not only happen in terms of how we work and live, but—in the area that’s closest to my heart—how the law works, if at all. There is no doubt the law will be challenged. The big question is: how relevant will the law be in the Metaverse?
It may seem obvious that the law should be regulating the Metaverse in the same way it insinuates itself into every part of our everyday lives today. But the law requires hierarchy, power and order. These are values that are antithetical to the Metaverse, which prizes decentralisation and interoperability. In such an environment, it is less certain what role the law can or will play in the Metaverse itself.
One good illustration is the blockchain, which is set to become the default way in which digital assets are transferred and owned. If ownership is determined by registration of an asset on the blockchain, will nice legal theories of ownership (including trusts and beneficial ownership) have any role to play in this construct?
It is not even clear how a will can be devised over a digital asset on the blockchain because unless the beneficiary is given access, they have no means of accessing the asset and transferring it to themselves. The only way a transfer can take place at the moment is if the beneficiary is given access to the digital asset. And yet, one might not always want to do that ahead of one’s death. What if there is a last-minute change of beneficiary?
Even if there is some residual role for the law in cases of blockchain theft or fraud, what possibility of tracing and recovering digital assets is there?
The answer may not lie in the law per se, but in the security of the blockchain. And the irony will be that the more secure the blockchain, the more it will be the only recognised form of ownership. This in turn may, as argued above, challenge the role of the law in regulating digital asset ownership.