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The Metaverse: A Legal Primer for the Hospitality Industry
Thursday, May 19, 2022

The metaverse, regarded by many as the next frontier in digital commerce, does not, on its surface, appear to offer many benefits to an industry with a core mission of providing a physical space for guests to use and occupy. However, there are many opportunities that the metaverse may offer to owners, operators, licensors, managers, and other participants in the hospitality industry that should not be ignored.

What is the Metaverse?

The metaverse is a term used to describe a digital space that allows social interactions, frequently through use of a digital avatar by the user. Built largely using decentralized, blockchain technology instead of centralized servers, the metaverse consists of immersive, three-dimensional experiences, persistent and traceable digital assets, and a strong social component. The metaverse is still in its infancy, so many of the uses for the metaverse remain aspirational; however, metaverse platforms have already seen a great deal of activity and commerce. Meanwhile, technology companies are working to produce the next-generation consumer electronics that they hope will make the metaverse a more common location for commerce.

The Business Case for the Hospitality Industry

The hospitality industry may find the metaverse useful in enhancing marketing and guest experiences. 

Immersive virtual tours of hotel properties and the surrounding area may allow potential customers to explore all aspects of the property and its surroundings before booking. Operators may also add additional booking options or promotions within the virtual tour to increase exposure to customers.

Creating hybrid, in-person and remote events, such as conferences, weddings, or other celebrations, is also possible through the metaverse. This would allow guests on-site to interact with those who are not physically present at the property for an integrated experience and possible additional revenue streams.

Significantly, numerous outlets have identified the metaverse as one of the top emerging trends in technology. As its popularity grows, the metaverse will become an important location for the hospitality industry to interact with and market to its customer base.

Legal Issues to Consider

  1. Select the right platform for you. There are multiple metaverse platforms, and they all have tradeoffs. Some, including Roblox and Fortnite, offer access to more consumers but generally give businesses less control over content within the programs. Others, such as Decentraland and the Sandbox, provide businesses with greater control but smaller audiences and higher barriers to entry. Each business should consider who its target audience is, what platform will be best to reach that audience, and its long term metaverse strategy before committing to a particular platform.

  2. Register your IP. Businesses should consider filing trademark applications covering core metaverse goods or services and securing any available blockchain domains, which can be used to facilitate metaverse payments and to direct users to blockchain content, such as websites and decentralized applications. Given the accelerating adoption of blockchain domains along with limited dispute resolution recourse available, we strongly encourage businesses to consider securing intellectual property rights now.

  3. Establish a dedicated legal entity. Businesses may want to consider setting up a new subsidiary or affiliate to hold digital assets, shield other parts of their business from metaverse-related liability, and isolate the potential tax consequences.

  4. Take custody of digital assets. Because of their digital character, digital assets such as cryptocurrency, which may be the primary method of payment in the metaverse, are uniquely vulnerable to loss and theft. Before acquiring cryptocurrency, businesses will need to set up a secure blockchain wallet and adopt appropriate access and security controls.

  5. Protect and enforce your IP. The decentralized nature of the metaverse poses a significant challenge to businesses and intellectual property owners. Avenues for enforcing intellectual property rights in the metaverse are constantly evolving and may require multiple tools to stop third-party infringements.

  6. Reserve metaverse rights. Each Business that licenses its IP, particularly those that do so on a geographic or territorial basis, should review existing license agreements to determine what rights, if any, its licensees have for metaverse-related uses. Moving forward, each brand owner is encouraged to expressly reserve rights for metaverse-related uses and exercise caution before authorizing any third party to deploy IP to the metaverse on a business’ behalf.

  7. Tax matters. Attention needs to be paid to how the tax law applies to metaverse transactions, despite the current tax law not fully addressing the metaverse. This is particularly the case for state and local sales and use, communications, and hotel taxes.

Ready to Enter?

As we move into the future, the metaverse appears poised to provide a tremendous opportunity for the hospitality industry to connect directly with consumers in an interactive way that was until recently considered science fiction. But like every new frontier, technological or otherwise, there are legal and regulatory hurdles to consider and overcome.

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