Rules for metaverse conduct being developed

Courtesy of KDDI Corp.
An image in Virtual Shibuya, a virtual open space.

Despite the word “metaverse” having just barely emerged in the modern lexicon, some cyber organizations are already hard at work creating rules of conduct and commerce for these shared virtual and augmented reality spaces that people access via the internet.

In this aspect of cyberspace, users are able to interact with other users as an avatar, a graphical representation of themselves, to travel around or even sell and buy goods and services.

While new metaverse services are emerging one after another, forms of governance to protect users, such as through existing laws, have yet to catch up. Multiple industry groups, which have emerged with a purpose of formulating policy proposals, will be urged to find universal rules.

Existing laws

Virtualcity Consortium, an industry group set up by companies including KDDI Corp. and Tokyu Corp., gave a presentation Friday in Tokyo to announce its guidelines regarding the rights of users and rules for business transactions in the metaverse. This was reportedly the first time for an industry organization to manifest such independent rules.

KDDI has been operating the Virtual Shibuya metaverse since May 2020. The company has pushed ahead with discussing challenges it has perceived through the actual operations of the metaverse.

Specific topics that have been taken up for discussion are wide-ranged: what to do with billboards when the townscapes of Shibuya are reproduced in cyberspace, and how to manage the information of users.

In the guidelines, it has been stipulated, for instance, “It is required to abide by the rules regarding the Personal Information Protection Law,” when handling such information that may lead to identifying an individual.

Kazuhiko Chuman, a chief executive of the organization, said at the presentation, “We will propose a framework that will harmonize with the real economic zone.”

More companies are showing interest in the metaverse. But, existing laws, in principle, only target goods and services traded in the real world, so they do not fully deal with such transactions made in cyberspace.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, in a report it released last July, pointed out the problems regarding the metaverse in as many as 12 different fields. The report said it would “be difficult to legally protect” the right of ownership of “items” such as clothing and shoes worn by “an avatar,” which represents a user’s character.

It also remains opaque whether the infringement of the right of portrait can be recognized when an avatar has been created to resemble a famous person, or whether slandering an avatar would be considered libelous.

Expanding corporate interest

While investment interest in the metaverse has been growing globally, companies in Japan, which consider the metaverse as a business with growth potential, have set up their own industry organizations one after another.

ANA Holdings Inc., Mitsubishi Corp., and other leading companies established in March a “council to promote the metaverse.” The council, with the revered anatomist Takeshi Yoro as representative director, is expected to promote the use of the metaverse for business transactions.

Earlier this month, SBI Holdings, Inc. Dentsu Group Inc., SoftBank Corp., Nomura Holdings, Inc., and other companies inaugurated “an economic association of the digital space in Japan.”

A public relations official of SBI Holdings said, “As there is a great future as a business in the digital space, we would like to get involved in formulating relevant rules by taking the lead.”

Going forward, the association is said to be moving ahead with discussing such issues as the management of intellectual property rights, aiming to compile proposals by the end of September.

Shinnosuke Fukuoka, a lawyer at Nishimura & Asahi who is knowledgeable about the metaverse, said: “The increase in the use of the metaverse in the future will depend on whether metaverse operators can provide convenient, safe and secure cyberspace. Industrial organizations should cooperate to move ahead with crafting the rules.”