Metaverse Is Approaching. Is Our Content Protected?
“As terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also… the only place that… you can get a decent meal. Because reality… is real,” replied James Halliday, a tech industry magnate and creator of the virtual universe in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. The story is set in 2045, painting the picture of a dystopian future where people spend their hard-earned cash to buy virtual lands in virtual worlds. Sound familiar? It should!
As we start 2022, yesterday’s science-fiction is gradually becoming today’s reality. If 2021 was the year of NFTs, 2022 could be the biggest year thus far for metaverse. While the concept is gathering momentum by the day, the real question is: what will the metaverse mean for creatives and creator economy?
So what is the metaverse, exactly?
The idea of the metaverse itself isn’t new. Neal Stephenson coined the term way back in 1992. In his novel, Snow Crash, the author narrates a hierarchical world where people interact in a virtual universe as avatars, basically an illusion built by corporations to control and distract the majority. Whenever big-tech talks about the metaverse, this cacotopia is the first picture that springs to my mind.
Nonetheless, today’s tech giants are trying to sell you on the metaverse as the next generation of the internet, a 3D simulation of the web where interactions will move from passive to immersive.
The metaverse might open more paths for monetization and distribution for content creators. A centralized metaverse, however, could be a threat to the freedom of thought, creativity, and the creator economy itself.
Here are some scenario hypotheses on how the metaverse could potentially impact the creative community.
Scenario #1: Cross-posting will be restricted
Have you ever reshared an Instagram post on Facebook or vice versa? So you probably noticed that by just checking a box, you could republish content on both platforms simultaneously. But when it comes to sharing your TikTok video as a Reel on Instagram, the platform limits your content’s discoverability. But what about the metaverse? Will users be able to cross-post on virtual worlds?
If we assume the number of content published will be one of the key success metrics for the metaverse, making it difficult to post content across meta-worlds will be one of the high-priority objectives for players in this space.
Each platform may demand a specific content license to prohibit you from publishing your visuals on other platforms. For example, transferring your virtual gallery from the Facebook metaverse to Microsoft virtual universes could breach Facebook’s terms of service.
Scenario #2: Copyright law will fall short of protecting creators’ rights
Even in a pre-metaverse internet, regulations fail to protect creators’ work online. “[copyright] laws — especially at an international level — are still a quarter-century old.” as pointed out in an article by Leila Iruzun, a copyright researcher. Although regulators are developing frameworks to help creators protect their rights online, metaverse might make the current regulations obsolete. As a result, content piracy will continue to grow, and fewer creators will share their content publicly.
Scenario #3: The metaverse will be the endgame of privacy and free expression
How much time do you spend on social media day-to-day? 3 hours? Or perhaps 6? Now, how much time do you spend on a particular social media, like TikTok or Instagram?
According to the Statista Research Department, daily time spent on social media was roughly 2.5 hours in 2020. So our thoughts, conversations, emotions, and pretty much most of the information we share are still happening in the material world.
But unlike social media, the metaverse will potentially offer an immersive experience. Your job, all of your dialogues with friends and family, holidays, and much more will take place in virtual spaces. So joining a centralized metaverse will be like sitting in an interrogation room surrounded by tens of hidden cameras and microphones.
More activity in the metaverse means more data points for advertisers to target users in real-time and sell their products. In the hands of authoritarian regimes, the metaverse could be used to force more constraints on the people and conduct mass surveillance and censorship. “Data collection just runs in the background. And you don’t know that you’re revealing your diary to the whole world,” as stated by Sophie J. Goossens, the EU copyright law specialist.
Scenario #4: The concept of content ownership will vanish
As users create and share more content across the virtual universes, more people will likely enter the space. That’s why making it as easy as possible to share content inside a platform will be an obvious path forward for the metaverse companies. How will this policy impact creators?
In the best-case scenario, even if a metaverse prohibits using unauthorized content, the chances are that people can still download your content and monetize it on another metaverse. The metaverse will possibly offer a vast world of entertainment and opportunities. But it might become impossible for creators to stay in charge when sharing their work on the metaverse and keep track of where their content is being used.
The metaverse dilemma
From Olduvai choppers to airplanes and the internet, humans are toolmaking species. And for better or worse, we constantly trial and error to find more possibilities for the tools we make.
The metaverse is no different.
The concept will pave new tracks for creators to grow their earnings and community. But will creators be the ones who control and own their content on the metaverse, or not? Perhaps it’s too early to answer this question; however, it’s possible to influence tomorrow by making the right choices today.
As creatives, we need to be more conscious about where we’re sharing our content online. Moreover, creators need to educate consumers about users’ responsibilities and artists’ rights.