- Virtual worlds should be based on EU values, in a sustainable and human-centric manner
- Consistency with existing civil, digital, liability and intellectual property EU laws
- Need to raise public awareness, improve digital skills and access to technologies
MEPs want the EU to assume a leading role in shaping virtual worlds that respect EU values and encourage full application of existing legal tools in this new context.
The Commission strategy on Web 4.0 and virtual worlds defines virtual worlds as persistent, immersive environments based on 3D and extended reality (XR) technologies. Although the communication does not yet propose specific legislative measures, MEPs urge the Commission to regularly assess the adequacy of existing rules and legal instruments and to present new legislation as needed.
EU should lead the way
Currently, virtual worlds are developed by a few companies based outside the EU. MEPs emphasise that EU should take a leading role in the development of virtual worlds that respect and promote EU values, fundamental rights, including fight against hate speech, child protection or fraud prevention and the highest standards of consumer protection. They call for fostering a level playing field to bolster European businesses, creating a suitable policy framework, engaging in international dialogues with like-minded third countries and promoting responsible use of these technologies.
Enforce existing rules
MEPs believe that current tools under private international, civil and intellectual property law are appropriate and should be applied to face challenges represented by the virtual worlds. They stress that the key is to ensure that what is illegal offline will remain illegal online. MEPs call on the Commission to prepare guidelines clarifying legal obligations and responsibilities of all stakeholders in virtual worlds, including platform operators, developers and users. They stress that liability rules should fully apply to virtual worlds and that it is important to put in place measures preventing harmful behaviour.
They are concerned by the use of avatars, who should in their view be identifiable and emphasize the need to fight fake identities and ensure transparent advertising. The emergence of potential problems in the Web 4.0 such as the proliferation of disinformation, spread of illegal content, digital identity theft, cybercrime, misuse of personal data, addictive design, dark patterns, sexual abuse of minors, among others, also need special attention.
Make technologies inclusive and accessible
MEPs also warn that the protection of intellectual and industrial property rights, such as trademarks, patents and trade secrets fully applies to virtual world and stakeholders must therefore respect the right to a fair remuneration and ensure that licences are obtained for the use of protected rights. They note, however, that outputs autonomously generated by AI create a new regulatory challenge.
MEPs stress the need to invest in infrastructure and research, raise awareness, improve digital skills and increase users’ access to key technologies to reduce the digital divide. They highlight the importance of inclusion and accessibility of virtual worlds for all EU users and stress the need for effective protection and education measures in order for people to benefit from them.
The own-initiative report of the Internal Market Committee by Pablo Arias Echeverría (EPP, ES) on the opportunities, risks and policy implications of virtual worlds for the Single Market was adopted with 484 votes for, 45 against and 98 abstentions and the own-initiative report of the Legal Affairs Committee by co-rapporteurs Axel Voss (EPP, DE) and Ibán García del Blanco (S&D, ES) on policy implications of virtual worlds in civil, company, commercial and intellectual property law was adopted with 491 votes for, 106 against and 35 abstentions. They come as a reaction to the Commission communication from 11 July 2023 on virtual worlds.
While experts say it might still take 10 to 15 years for the virtual worlds to reach their full potential, their deployment has already attracted the attention of public authorities. Once fully developed, virtual worlds are expected to significantly impact the digital, social and economic landscape, bringing both opportunities and risks.