The Metaverse: The legal world of tomorrow

Over the past few months, we’ve seen the Metaverse become an increasingly important part of our society. The Metaverse has been all over the news since Facebook announced it was changing its name to Meta, but what is the Metaverse really? Well, to answer that, we invited Professor Karen Eltis, who specializes in technology law at the University of Ottawa: 

“I would say in a very simple way, it’s a series of interrelated three-dimensional virtual universes. So, you can be in different places without being physically there, but in a much more sophisticated way than this preview that is Zoom, Teams and so on. The Metaverse is normally imagined more in virtual reality; it’s 3-D, so there’s this immersion that’s close to virtual reality, kind of like when you wear glasses, and you feel like you’re there. When we’re on Zoom, I don’t feel like I’m in your company. We talk, but there is no three-dimensional aspect, no physical space. I’m in my house, you’re in your house, and we only see each other as squares, we don’t have the ability to interact in that space besides talking to each other in a very rudimentary way. But, the Metaverse has this aspect that is three dimensional that allows all kinds of activities, where we have the physical feeling; when you are on a precipice you feel like you are falling, when you are touching something, you feel like you are touching it, which raises many questions…” 

Analogy with the movie Ready Player One 

“When my son and I, and my son who is a teenager, were talking about the Metaverse, he reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. In the movie, if I remember the premise, the world is in ruins, there is socio-economic inequality, and for some, the only way, (it’s very dystopian isn’t it, but you can draw parallels with the pandemic if you want) to have certain experiences. For example travel, we can’t travel anymore because of constraints, whether it’s sanitary constraints, whether it’s socio-economic constraints, but with this Metaverse, and I’m using the term in a very generic way, we can have the experience of traveling, like projecting ourselves in this world that is very different from the internet if I look, if I take my phone and I look at the beautiful landscapes, it’s an extremely limited experience. In Ready Player One, it’s really projecting yourself on an almost physical and emotional level, into this interconnected, virtual, 3-D world.” 

Thank you very much to Professor Karen Eltis for explaining so well what the Metaverse is. Now it’s time to look at the practice of law. All over the world, we are starting to see many law firms opening their doors in the Metaverse. This is the case for one of the first American law firms to do so, which on YouTube even offered us the chance to visit it entirely virtually. In Canada, there is the first firm to open its doors in the Metaverse. It is the firm Renno & Co, which is located in Montreal. We are very pleased to welcome Bianca Lessard, a lawyer at Renno & Co. Ms. Lessard will tell us more about their firm, as well as legal issues that arise from the Metaverse. 

Can you tell us about your firm?   

We specialize in emerging technologies, and that really includes everything in technology, really, especially Blockchain and cryptos, NFTs, and all that. But, in general, we really accompany companies from A to Z, as much for the launch of their business as for the expansion of their business, but also for the protection of intellectual property. 

How do you think the practice of law will be impacted by the Metaverse? 

Lots of opportunities in the intellectual property space, especially for trademark registration. There are already several examples of brands that have gone ahead and registered trademarks. You can think of Nike, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Victoria’s Secret, and really any number of brands that have taken an interest in this. Otherwise, with all of this obviously comes litigation. There’s been some already, and then there’s more to come, this is just the beginning. Otherwise, well, it’s certain that there will be questions of confidentiality (privacy), protection of personal data with these new Metaverse platforms. There will certainly be a period of adaptation for the lawyers for the drafting of contracts. So, it is sure that the terms are not the same, the technicalities are not the same. 

What are the legal issues arising from the Metaverse and how do you prepare for them? 

There are questions of application of the law, questions of international law. And the fact that there is still no real “Framework”, if I may say so, in law, to qualify what NFTs are, and the Metaverse, it’s still a bit vague in law what it represents, everything it represents. But, of course, as I was saying, to prepare yourself as a lawyer, you really must project yourself into the future, you mustn’t think that what you’re seeing right now is all that’s going to happen. You only see the tip of the iceberg, and you can’t even imagine what’s going to exist in just a few months, even a few years. So, a good example to explain the problems, the conflicts to prepare, would be to really take the time to review the contracts and make sure that they are general enough to not be too restrictive in all the technologies that are coming. It could also be interesting to consider arbitration in the dispute resolution clauses and then avoid legal proceedings, since it is very international, and there may be people from everywhere. 

Do you think other firms in Canada will also open a practice in the metaverse? 

We wouldn’t want to be alone in this, that would be a shame! But yes, it’s true that in law, we lawyers are known for accepting changes and technologies much more slowly than other industries. So, at Renno & Co. it’s different, we go straight to the point, but of course I know that for other firms it may be slower, but we encourage them!   

Since the 1990s, cyberspace has been in constant evolution. The change of Facebook’s name to Meta in 2021 marked the beginning of a new chapter: that of the metaverse. This virtual world gives a whole new meaning to reality and is even said to have the potential to change the way our society functions. But few people really understand what the metaverse is all about. For lawyers, an important question looms on the horizon: what will the metaverse mean for the practice of law?

To demystify the subject, law students put important questions to two specialists: Karen Eltis, a Full Professor specializing in law and technology, and Bianca Lessard, a lawyer at Renno & Co, the first Canadian firm to open its doors in the metaverse. Together, these experts paint a picture of the metaverse, its impact on legal practice, and the issues that may arise from it.

This visual advocacy video was produced by Milo Hallak, Nadreyh Vagba, Mimi Diarra and Elruma Dixon as part of the Visual Advocacy – Law and Film course at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section.

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