This is undoubtedly an exciting time to be a creator. The metaverse and NFTs provide a way for participants in the digital creator communities to benefit economically from the sale of their work. However, these new mediums for exchange may present many legal challenges – especially for historically underrepresented communities.

At this year’s Innovation Conference, we invited law professor Kevin J. Greene from Southwestern Law School to join our discussion about the rise of NFTs, digital assets, and the metaverse. Professor Greene is a nationally recognized entertainment and intellectual property law scholar. He previously received international recognition for his research exploring African-American music and inequality in copyright law.

Professor Greene provided historical context to the current conversation around minority community participation in the digital creator economy. Despite new technology’s ability to democratize the arts and provide more opportunities for underrepresented artists, Professor Greene warns that history may repeat itself.

A Clash of Copyright Law and NFTs

Referencing how the music industry exploited copyright and trademark laws to take advantage of African-American artists, Professor Greene said that laws created to regulate NFTs should be designed to avoid those issues moving forward.

“Now, this is supposed to be a secure blockchain,” Professor Greene said. “So that would take out some of that risk. But I’m not necessarily persuaded.” 

For example, blockchain technology provides a ledger that records ownership in a piece of art. However, it does not assign IP rights. In fact, there are major distinctions between NFT and copyright requirements that can affect things such as copyright enforcement through a DMCA takedown and payment through royalty streams.

“So I just looked at this and I see tons and tons of issues,” Professor Greene said. “I don’t say this to be a naysayer, but before we invite particularly marginalized communities into the space, we better be sure that we’re not going to replicate the same issues that existed in 1920 when the recording industry was launched.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Professor Greene points to the lack of minority voices involved in the creation of the Copyright Act and the resulting inequality which persisted for decades. This inequality, Greene said, is one reason so many minority artists are flocking to the NFT space and metaverse. But who is responsible for building these structures, and are minorities invited into the conversation?

“There are companies that are basically building these structures, and that is a little concerning because they have an absolutely horrific track record when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion,” Greene said.

As startups, corporations, government agencies, and other participants in the NFT and metaverse space continue to innovate and develop new and exciting products, diversity and inclusion will continue to be a major point of discussion. To learn more about Professor Greene and hear his expert perspective on these issues, you can watch the entire discussion on our YouTube channel.