Micaela Mantegna has given herself a job title. She’s the world’s first ‘abogamer’ – a video game lawyer specializing in regulation, copyright and the uncharted digital world of the metaverse.
“The abogamer concept comes from a Spanish word that is abogada or abogado, meaning lawyer and gamer,” she told the World Economic Forum. “I have always been a gamer, so it was a natural progression to mix up video games with law.”
The Argentinian is a member of the Forum’s Council for the Future of the Metaverse and was a panellist at the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils in Dubai in the session From Abogamers to Prompt Engineers: Navigating a New World of Work.
Here – in an edited version of her interview with the Forum – she explains what an abogamer means, and how we can navigate copyright and regulation in a world of generative AI.
What is an abogamer?
What I wanted to show with the term is that video games are so much more than just games. When people think about games, they tend to think about violent games or shooters. For me, this is a way to show that there is a fantastic industry behind video games.
There is a very creative industry. There are a lot of people putting in passion, not just as creators of games and as developers, but also as consumers, because the video game community is amazing. The amount of things you can learn from video games and the skills you can get are just incredible.
What is it about video games that inspires you?
Video games are a fantastic way to tell stories, to tell narratives, and also a fantastic way to exercise empathy, because you can actually walk in the shoes of the character that you are embodying. You can tell a very diverse range of stories. It’s like thinking that all cinema is just Hollywood movies or Marvel movies.
Video games are another medium to tell stories and there’s a huge amount of indie games that can tell beautiful and meaningful stories. For example, parents who lost their child to cancer catalyzed their pain through a video game called That Dragon, Cancer. This is not a game that you’re going to win, or play for fun.
As an activist, I’m trying to expand this notion of what a video game could be, what it could teach us, such as empathy, or how to create community. When video games go online, you have the chance to find your peers all around the world. During the pandemic, there were examples of people conducting protests in Animal Crossing or creating things to connect with their peers around the world.
Being an abogamer was a way to show that and connect with the law, because when you create a video game, you need data protection regulations, you need to think about intellectual property. It was bringing all these elements together into one word.
How do we regulate intellectual property and copyright in a world with AI?
The rationale for copyright law to be created was to protect authors, giving them rights for an amount of time so they can create something and sustain themselves to continue creating. That rationale is now being challenged because it belongs to a moment in time when we had intellectual scarcity.
We had a few authors, painters and artists, and now everyone is a creator. All of us are taking pictures or creating on social media, but now we have the challenge of artificial creativity, which was the subject of my last book and my research for the past six years. Can machines be creative? How do we define creativity and how do you connect this with law?
Copyright law has principles, and one of them is that for something to be protected by copyright, it needs to be original. The definition of original is you have to have a modicum of creativity. If we consider machines as creatives, should they be afforded copyright protection?
Now we are in a moment, that is one of the urgent questions of copyright law and urgent questions about labour. We see a lot of artists now at the forefront of the protest against AI, considering how AI could replace their jobs. Also thinking in terms of ethics and the extractivism of the data and the data sets being used to train these systems.
It’s a very complex and interesting question, because on one hand, it is unethical to take this data and to train these systems and also to replace humans. But at the same time, you have these amazing tools that are opening up a huge box of creativity and possibilities in terms of artistic creation.
From the legal perspective, it’s not that black and white that they are so-called “plagiarism machines”, because technically some of these systems are learning in a way that sometimes is similar to how humans learn and sometimes they don’t create a reproduction or a copy of the work in the data set, which is a prior requirement for copyright infringement.
How the tasks automated by machines will grow in future. Image: World Economic Forum
What are the consumer rights to ownership in the metaverse?
We used to live in a world where our values were placed in tangible items that come with rights. So if you own a book, you can lend it, you can donate it, you can destroy it. But when it comes to the digital equivalent, it is not the same in terms of legal frameworks.
Your relationship with tangible things is in terms of property and your relationship with the digital good is in terms of a licence or terms of service within a platform. One of the most well-guarded secrets of intellectual property is the first-sale principle, which allows you to create secondary markets for tangible goods, but it is not allowed when it comes to digital goods.
In this transition from the tangible world to the digital world, we are losing as consumers a lot of rights to the ownership of our assets because, in the metaverse, for example, there is still no definition and no consensus on what the metaverse is. How are we going to transition into these digital economies when we are challenged by how these platforms or spaces are going to be the owners or the rulers of our assets?
I believe that we are at a pivotal moment for the metaverse, where we have two paths in front of us. One path is following the philosophy of Web3, decentralisation, being owners of our data and reclaiming the power that we lost during the evolution of the internet corporations.
And the other one is replicating the same business models that we already know from this internet about extracting your data, invading your privacy. For me, this kind of model could put the metaverse at risk of becoming a perfect evolution of capitalism, because you are losing all of these rights that you had in the financial world and you’re being more restricted because you are not able to access secondary markets.
What are we missing about digital worlds that we should pay attention to?
Thinking as an academic, but also as an activist, if we are seeing radical technologies that are changing the world, we [need to] radically rethink and redesign the way we approach the world. One of the things I would like to see in the future is how do we radically redesign the redistribution of wealth? When artists are protesting [against] prompt engineers, it’s people against people, while the companies are taking the wealth and all the revenue from the systems.
I would like to see how governments step in, not just from the point of regulation. I think it’s a mistake to try, for example, to regulate generative AI by copyright and lose the perspective from consumer protection law or data protection law.
The regulation of generative AI should come with the consideration of all these legal frameworks. For example, if you regulate just from copyright, you are going to end up probably affecting how AI for health and healthcare could be developed. So we need to be really careful and think about this.
For me, the answers should come from another economic perspective. For example, taxation and how are we going to redistribute wealth? I don’t know if I’m going to see it during my lifetime, but that’s the future that I want to see, a future when we can think in terms of abundance and collectively think how can we redistribute the wealth that these systems are creating?
What needs to happen in the future?
We are in a pivotal moment where we need to take decisions that are going to impact us in the long term. So maybe tackle copyright reform, not just readapting copyright to the current technologies, but redesigning copyright in a way that could serve us for the digital world.
Intellectual property [IP] is going to be a backbone and the framework that’s going to regulate all of us in digital worlds and digital property. If we extend this framework the way that it is now, we’re going to end up in a dystopian place because we need to think in terms of how the paradigm has shifted from scarcity to maybe abundance, and how we can radically redesign these to fit this new paradigm.
One of my passions is thinking about the role of intellectual property in culture, because sometimes it protects innovation, but sometimes IP can obstruct innovation. That’s what is called the negative spaces of intellectual property law, areas like tattoos, jokes, cuisine or graffiti where innovation flourishes without applying the same frameworks of IP.
I did a really interesting study about video game streaming, how the industry collectively allowed gamers to stream their games, which technically would be a copyright infringement. That enabled the creation of two huge industries: one of streaming and influencers, another of esports. So sometimes you have to think outside the box or reshift your perspective of how this framework should be applied to enable the creation of innovation.
For the next generations, what I would love is [to think] about how do you approach culture and sharing. For example, I’m an influencer and I get my money from some other business model, but I put up my content for you to enjoy for free. And this is something that maybe in the past we haven’t thought about as a possible career path. Open up the framework to the new possibilities and be open and honest about the future that we want.
Kate Whiting is senior writer, Forum Agenda, at the World Economic Forum.
This story was first published by the World Economic Forum and is republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License.