ELI Celebrates its First Members’ Day


While ELI projects are at the center of ELI’s activities, ELI’s achievements are thanks to a great extent to its Members. To recognise the importance of its broad and varied Membership base, ELI launched a Members’ Day, which will be celebrated annually online on the occasion of ELI’s anniversary.

The first Members’ Day, which took place on 1 June 2023, was opened by Pascal Pichonnaz (Chair; ELI President; Professor, University of Fribourg), who explained the backward and forward looking nature of the event.

Part I: ELI’s Establishment, its Achievements and Impact

As regards the former, Lord John Thomas (First ELI Vice-President; Former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales) spoke about ELI’s establishment, its achievements and impact. A book was also produced to commemorate ELI’s anniversary and to acknowledge the commitment of its Founding Members, others that patronised ELI from its very foundation as well as those that pay over and beyond the basic ELI Membership Fee (Sustaining Members) in support of ELI’s causes. As part of the above, Founding and Enduring Members were sent certificates of Membership.

As regard the latter, Teresa Rodríguez de las Heras Ballell (Chair of ELI’s Membership Committee; Member of ELI’s Executive Committee; Associate Professor, Carlos III of Madrid), explained that the second part of ELI Member’s Day drew from ideas of the Membership Committee, which wished to include Members in bringing to the fore potential topics on emerging legal trends that ELI could embark on. She informed those present that the details on the call for topics of Future ELI Members’ Days will be provided in due course. For this year, a topic – The Law in the Metaverse – was selected after ELI was contacted by various organisations to consider launching a project on the topic, including one of its Institutional Members.

The webinar on the Law in the Metaverse, chaired by Pascal Pichonnaz, then followed. It looked at the Metaverse from the different perspectives of its users and investors as well as legal experts, policy-makers and practitioners.

Part II: The Law in the Metaverse

Cecilia Álvarez (Privacy Policy Director, Meta) outlined various use cases of the Metaverse, referring among others to its immersive and interactive 3D nature which enhances education, healthcare, workforce development, etc. 

Architecture and the Metaverse was the topic of a presentation by Helmut Kinzler (Associate Director, Zaha Hadid Architects), who opined that cybernetic architecture must necessarily be collaborative. Zaha Hadid Architects aims for an open, inclusive, human centric, trustworthy Metaverse which is a translation from its traditional architectural statement. Among other things, he referred to the need for governance models to support their work and an EU Horizon project that Zaha Hadid Architects is involved in, supporting the emergence of an open human-centric Metaverse.

Jacques de Werra (Professor, University of Geneva) presented his considerations on IP Law in the Metaverse and stressed that the application of IP law in the Metaverse raises many questions, including about the need to develop new principles for a ‘meta-IP law’. He outlined four such principles.

Marit Hansen (State Data Protection Commissioner of Land Schleswig-Holstein and Chief of Unabhängiges Landeszentrum für Datenschutz (ULD)) went on to outline Data Protection in the Metaverse, explaining when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in particular art 5, applies and when it does not. Hansen also explained the challenges that the Metaverse creates in the above context and concluded that these call for a careful analysis of when current data protection provisions apply and that where they do, they should be applied diligently.

Bernhard Koch (Professor, Dean of Law Faculty, University of Innsbruck) discussed the contract/tort law aspects pertaining to the Metaverse. He outlined the challenges of identifying applicable law in the Metaverse, identifying several possible connecting factors. While the Metaverse provides a novel playground, the laws of agency and vicarious liability ultimately kick in. Existing rules and concepts therefore still apply.

Michel Cannarsa (Professor, Dean of Faculty of Law, Catholic University of Lyon) spoke about Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) in the Metaverse. He explained the distinct nature of NFTs, including non-replication, before opining that NFTs and metaverses are inextricably linked, with blockchain technologies as their supporting architecture. According to Cannarsa, NFTs are expected to play a central role in valorisation and transfer of digital assets within and between metaverses. This creates business opportunities, of course, but also new legal challenges, including money laundering and IP infringement, to be aware of and to tackle.

Taxation of Digital Assets in the Metaverse was the topic of Johanna Rizzi’s (Tax Advice Manager, Deloitte Austria) presentation. In her talk she explained how acquisitions, sales and profits are taxed in the Metaverse.

Renate Nikolay (Deputy Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, European Commission), presented the European Commission’s perspective. Se stressed that virtual worlds bring lots of opportunities but also new regulatory challenges. For citizens and businesses to fully embrace those new opportunities, transparency, fundamental rights and freedoms such as privacy and data protection must be guaranteed. She concluded by outlining the Commission’s four key areas under its virtual worlds initiative.

The webinar recording is available below. Clearly, virtual worlds, including the Metaverse, are evolving and so the full scope of law that will be applicable in the field remains to be seen.