The metaverse is poised to have a transformational impact on 21st century society. Lawyers immersed in the space must be able to adapt their legal training to tackle novel, unexpected challenges. A general counsel of a virtual reality company works on a wide range of legal issues in a rapidly evolving regulatory environment.
Augmented Reality Versus Virtual Reality
Sometimes people use the terms augmented reality and virtual reality interchangeably. However, these realities achieve different objectives in different ways. In simple terms, augmented reality uses the real-world setting while virtual reality replaces a real-world environment with a simulated experience.
Augmented reality is an interactive experience that enhances real-world environments. Computer-generated perceptual information enriches the natural environment. Augmented reality technologies can enhance the existing surroundings across multiple sensory modalities including visual, auditory, and olfactory senses.
When a user is in virtual reality, the features or items the user observes simulate physical obstacles in their immediate surroundings. Virtual reality headsets help simulate sounds and sensations in the artificial digital environment.
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, launched a virtual reality remote work app called Horizon Workrooms. The app creates an experience to facilitate the collaboration of people working together using the company’s Oculus Quest 2 headsets.
Sales of consumer headsets that augment reality are on the rise. Omdia Research, a consultancy firm, predicts that the market will reach $16 billion by 2026. The augmented reality group estimates that the line between the two realities will increasingly blur.
There is a heightened focus on the passthrough virtual reality feature. This feature allows you to look outside the headset for a real-time view of your surroundings. The feature is sometimes referred to as mixed reality. It is a blend of digital and physical environments.
The General Counsel Experience in the Virtual Reality Industry
Ruth Ann Keene, the General Counsel of Unity Technologies from September 2016 until 2022, applies long-standing legal rules to novel legal situations. “There’s a reason why we still learn 1800s tort law,” Ms. Keene remarked. Prior to joining Unity Technologies, Ms. Keene worked in private practice for many years at the international law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.
Gamma Law, a specialty law firm, provides clients in industries using the two types of realities with tailored advice. The legal team at Gamma Law specializes in complex legal issues relating to augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. For example, their team of lawyers advise clients on M&A transactions, technology licensing, securities investments, and negotiation strategy.
Ultraleap, the company that designs handheld tracking software for virtual reality, believes its lawyers must be adept at breaking new legal ground. Tom Kaweski served as General Counsel and Chief Financial Officer at Leap Motion from 2012 – 2017. This was before Ultrahaptics acquired the company in 2019 and renamed it Ultraleap. He described being an in-house lawyer at such a company as requiring a diverse legal skillset. “The day-to-day things are licensing, development agreements, overseeing patent counsel, and handling employment matters,” Mr. Kaweski stated.
The Intersection of the Two Realities
The advent of new augmented reality and virtual reality technologies comes with a host of legal issues not previously tackled. However, legal analysis often involves applying centuries-old legal concepts and principles.
The increased use of AR and VR technologies may also impact unanticipated legal areas. For example, greater use of AR and VR may result in personal injury liability. Since the experience may cause users to lose awareness of their real-world surroundings, users could risk injuries while using the technology. Determining whether the responsibility for personal injuries would reside with the designer of the virtual reality headset or the individual user involves an intricate legal analysis.
Privacy and Cybersecurity in the Metaverse
The metaverse’s cybersecurity legal challenges are likely to extend beyond the Internet. The heavy use of cryptocurrencies and NFTs may lead to an increase in financial cybercrimes such as fraud, theft, and money laundering. Cybercrimes prevalent today, such as ransomware, phishing, and hacking, will likely also occur frequently.
On the privacy front, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen cast a spotlight on the use of personal data in the metaverse. Metaverse providers are responsible for aggregating vast quantities of personal data. Social media platforms will have even more control over collecting, using and storing of personal data with the growth of virtual reality. It remains to be seen how the general counsels of these futuristic companies will handle the legal challenges ahead.