Following publication of the European Commission’s strategy on virtual worlds and Web 4.0 in July 2023, this week, the European Parliament has urged the Commission to take a “leading role” in the regulation of virtual worlds in the EU. 

What is the concern?

MEPs are concerned about harmful behaviour in virtual worlds and are keen to ensure that “what is illegal offline will remain illegal online”.

In particular, they are worried about the use of avatars to create fake identities, as well as the “proliferation of disinformation, spread of illegal content, digital identity theft, cybercrime, misuse of personal data, addictive design, dark patterns, [and] sexual abuse of minors”. 

In many ways, the concerns of MEPs seem to mirror the concerns which the UK's Online Safety Act seeks to tackle - namely, illegal and harmful content online. Currently, the EU has the Digital Services Act which also covers illegal content but has a broader scope than the UK legislation (which is more targeted and sits alongside similar legislation, such as the DMCC - see our comparison of the OSA and DSA here).

There is also concern about the protection of intellectual and industrial property rights in virtual worlds and whether stakeholders are obtaining licences and paying fair remuneration for protected rights.

How do MEPs think this can be addressed?

The European Parliament wants to create virtual worlds which “respect and promote EU values, fundamental rights, including fight against hate speech, child protection or fraud prevention and the highest standards of consumer protection”. It has, therefore, called on the Commission to assess current rules and propose new legislation to fill existing gaps.

In addition, MEPs have also stressed the “importance of inclusion and accessibility of virtual worlds for all EU users and… the need for effective protection and education measures in order for people to benefit from them”.

What next?

There are obviously significant difficulties regulating multi-jurisdictional worlds with different walled gardens. However, MEPs clearly want the EU to lead the way, and not just from an online safety perspective - they also want to ensure that the EU's approach “foster[s] a level playing field to bolster European businesses, creat[es] a suitable policy framework, engag[es] in international dialogues with like-minded third countries and promot[es] responsible use of these technologies”.

We will wait to see how the Commission responds to this call to arms.