Tech, Media and Comms

The metaverse and artificial intelligence: the 'IP is everywhere' problem

Published on 26th May 2022

Almost all of the metaverse is likely to be someone's intellectual property, which raises issues around AI and the use of data

Computer Cables

One of the distinguishing features between the metaverse and real world is that everything in the metaverse will have been 100% manufactured and, therefore, will have a "creator" of some shape or form. This will apply to anything from the clothes worn by our avatars to the "roads" that connect users to different parts of the metaverse. Consequently, almost all elements of the metaverse are likely to be someone's intellectual property (IP), which raises the "IP is everywhere" problem.

This will have an impact on how data can be accessed, analysed and redeployed within the metaverse. As artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are dependent upon the use of data, will the operation of AI in the metaverse be stilted by this "IP is everywhere" problem? 

Data use and IP

AI relies on the "input" of large amounts of data. In the real world, data used to train an AI model may or may not be subject to IP restrictions. This would be dependent upon the underlying data set being used; for example, animal noises and historical weather data are unlikely to be protected. 

In the metaverse, every single image and sound will be the creation of a machine that has been coded by a human. Even background sounds, like traffic noise, birdsong or trees blowing in the wind, will have been coded by a human and may therefore be protected in the metaverse.

The "IP is everywhere" problem has the potential to give rise to new and contentious AI and IP issues and questions. How can an AI technology access and utilise data in the metaverse if IP is everywhere and would the re-use of information in these circumstances by an AI technology amount to a restricted act? 

Even if the AI technology itself is not infringing, is there a risk of AI-generated output infringing IP laws? Where AI has been trained on data in the metaverse, there may be a risk of a substantially similar output being produced. How will the different IP laws (and AI laws as they come into force) be applied and enforced globally within the metaverse?  The internet is subject to a cross-jurisdiction of laws; however, the metaverse will be constantly evolving, making this even more challenging. In the UK, there is currently no IP protection for creations made by robots – will the metaverse change this? Or will we see the polar opposite, with AI-created metaverses not being subject to IP laws and those technologies allowed to thrive in a creative way, free of restrictions? 

However, as well as creating potential IP problems within the metaverse, AI has the ability to identify issues too. For example, AI could be deployed in the metaverse to enforce the protection of IP.    

AI's potential

AI has flourished in the real world. The UK's Alan Turing Institute's research programme, AI for science and government, is funding new research initiatives with the goal of building a "data and AI enriched world for the benefit of all". Meanwhile, the UK government has laid out an AI strategy that aims to make Britain a "global AI superpower". The strategy involves a balanced approach to the regulation of AI technologies and encourages innovation utilising AI while ensuring that public and fundamental rights are protected. 

The UK has already started to progress towards protecting computer-generated works on the basis of aspects of creativity contained within the work and output. This is to encourage businesses to continue to invest in the development and advancement of AI systems. Meanwhile, works of art have been sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds at auction internationally – while an array of guides and tools are already available online to use to start coding your own art!

AI is likely to play a central role in the future of the metaverse. The question is how will it be allowed to flourish in a creative but safe environment within the metaverse?

Osborne Clarke comment

The "meta takeaway" from this is that it makes sense to think about compliance by design and having a framework that could address these various issues, including the protection and tracking of content within the metaverse, while remaining flexible enough to accommodate the differences in regional and national legislation. 

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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