Legal Challenges in Virtual Galleries and Showrooms

The art gallery which is near my college  was on display , and I was interested in it . So my
friends with me had a wonderful weekend .

Photo by Dannie Jing

  1. Introduction

As the digital cosmos expands, it unfurls unprecedented horizons for the connoisseurs and creators of art, with virtual galleries and showrooms crystallizing as avant-garde arenas for the exhibition and monetization of artistic endeavors. These ethereal spaces, unshackled from the corporeal constraints of traditional galleries, herald a democratization of art access, catapulting artists onto a global stage and endowing connoisseurs with unhindered entry into a sanctum of diverse artistic manifestations. Yet, this burgeoning dominion of virtual exhibitionism is not without its labyrinthine legal quandaries, which intertwine inexorably with the realms of creativity and digital expression, demanding astute navigation and sagacious inquiry.

  1. Legal Aspects of Virtual Real Estate

Virtual real estate, comprising digital parcels of land in virtual worlds, has become a lucrative investment and a creative outlet. However, the ownership and rights associated with virtual spaces are navigating uncharted legal territories.

Ownership Disputes - The decentralized nature of blockchain, which often underpins virtual worlds, can lead to complex ownership disputes. For instance, conflicts may arise when multiple parties claim ownership over the same virtual parcel due to technical glitches or fraudulent activities.

Regulatory Challenges - The lack of a standardized regulatory framework to govern transactions and ownership in virtual worlds further complicates matters. The anonymity and global accessibility of virtual platforms can also pose challenges in enforcing legal judgments and ensuring compliance with varied international laws.

Case Study 1: The Decentraland Dispute

Decentraland, a decentralized virtual world, has garnered attention not only for its innovative approach to virtual real estate but also for the stark contrast between its market valuation and actual user engagement. Despite boasting a substantial market capitalization, reportedly reaching $1.2 billion, the platform has faced scrutiny and skepticism due to its surprisingly low active user numbers. A report highlighted that over a 24-hour period, Decentraland only saw 38 active users, according to data from DappRadar. This discrepancy between its financial valuation and real-world usage underscores the complexities and challenges of navigating virtual worlds, particularly concerning user adoption, engagement, and the actualization of purported value in decentralized virtual spaces (Futurism).

This scenario brings to light critical questions about the sustainability and genuine utility of virtual worlds. It prompts reflections on how platforms like Decentraland can enhance user engagement, ensure equitable and genuine value distribution, and navigate the multifaceted challenges that arise from blending virtual real estate with decentralized technologies. The Decentraland case serves as a poignant exploration of the juxtaposition between the envisioned potential and the actualized reality of virtual platforms, highlighting the need for robust mechanisms that ensure sustainability, user engagement, and equitable value creation and distribution in the burgeoning virtual world space.

Case Study 2: The SOMNIUM SPACE Scenario

Somnium Space, a virtual reality platform, has been a canvas for various user interactions and creative expressions in the virtual world. While specific incidents of API manipulation for unauthorized advertisements are not documented in available sources, the platform does offer a rich array of tools and features that users can leverage to enhance their virtual experiences. For instance, users can utilize animated GIFs, manipulate them through third-party programs, and explore a plethora of creative possibilities within their virtual parcels. The platform has also been a space where users can potentially monetize their virtual real estate, thereby intertwining creativity, technology, and economic activity in a singular virtual environment. This scenario underscores the potential and challenges of navigating user interactions, creativity, and rights within virtual worlds, highlighting the need for robust frameworks to safeguard user experiences and ethical interactions in the digital realm.

  1. IP Rights in Virtual Galleries

The digitalization of art and its display in virtual galleries necessitate a robust framework to protect artists’ IP rights.
Unauthorized Replications - Artists may find their work replicated and displayed in virtual galleries without their consent, leading to potential loss of income and unauthorized use of their creations.

Licensing and Fair Use - Ensuring that artists retain control over how their work is used, displayed, and monetized in virtual spaces is crucial. Implementing smart contracts that automate royalty payments and enforce usage restrictions can be a step towards safeguarding artists’ rights.

Case Study 3: The Virtual Salvador Dalí Exhibition

An immersive virtual exhibition featuring the works of the renowned artist Salvador Dalí was launched, blending the realms of classic art and modern technology. The exhibition, titled "DALÍ CIBERNÈTIC" or "Cyber Dali" for English-speaking audiences, was set to display over 200 of Dalí's works in a digital format, allowing potentially millions of art fans to explore his creations without leaving their homes. The exhibition was scheduled to open on September 20 in Barcelona, Spain, and was designed to provide an immersive experience, where visitors could use virtual reality glasses to enter a metaverse, creating their own avatars to freely walk inside the paintings.

The project, an international co-production of Exhibition Hub and Layers of Reality, aimed to deploy the exhibition in more than 20 cities through an international tour lasting approximately four years. One of the unique features of this exhibition was the digital interaction with the painter, where Dalí's voice would guide attendees throughout the journey, providing a highly innovative model for digital galleries. The exhibition was structured to allow art fans to stroll through four spaces of Dalí’s universe, including the sea, the sky, the void, and the desert, immersing themselves for 15 minutes into his most striking works. Tickets for this event, which was set to last one month, were made available for sale, and an international tour was expected to commence in London in October after the first exhibition concluded.

This case underscores the innovative possibilities of virtual exhibitions in providing widespread access to renowned artworks and artists. However, it also highlights the importance of navigating through various considerations, such as IP rights, licensing, and ethical display of artworks in the digital realm, ensuring that the integrity and rights of the artists and their creations are preserved and respected in the virtual world.

Hypothetical Scenario

CryptoVoxels, as a virtual world, allows users to create, buy, and showcase digital artworks, often in the form of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs).  

In a hypothetical scenario, a user in CryptoVoxels curates a virtual gallery, displaying various digital artworks from different artists without their explicit permission or without purchasing the associated NFTs. This unauthorized display of digital art raises several critical questions and challenges -

  1. IP Rights and Copyright Infringement - Displaying digital art without permission or ownership of the associated NFT could be considered a violation of the artist’s IP rights and potentially constitute copyright infringement.

  2. Monetization and Compensation - If the virtual gallery is monetized, either through entry fees or other means, it raises ethical and legal questions about the unauthorized profit from artists' works.

  3. Verification and Provenance - Ensuring that displayed artworks are genuine and verifying the provenance of digital art in virtual galleries can be challenging, especially in decentralized platforms.

This hypothetical case highlights the potential complexities and challenges of navigating IP rights, copyright, and ethical considerations in virtual art galleries. It underscores the importance of establishing robust mechanisms for verifying authenticity, respecting IP rights, and ensuring fair compensation for artists in the virtual art space. As the digital art world continues to evolve, developing frameworks to navigate these challenges will be crucial in fostering a space that is conducive to both creative expression and legal and ethical compliance.

Privacy and Ethical Considerations

The intersection of technology and art in virtual galleries also brings forth critical privacy and ethical considerations.

Data Protection - Virtual galleries collect vast amounts of user data, necessitating stringent data protection measures to safeguard users’ privacy and comply with global data protection regulations.

Ethical Display - Ensuring that art is displayed ethically and in a manner that respects creators’ intentions and cultural sensitivities is paramount. The global and diverse audience of virtual galleries necessitates a mindful approach to the curation and display of art.


The entwining of art and technology in virtual galleries and showrooms heralds a new era of accessibility and opportunity for artists and creators. However, navigating through the intricate web of legal, ethical, and privacy considerations necessitates the development of robust frameworks that safeguard artists’ rights and ensure ethical and legal compliance. As we venture into the future, the evolution of legal frameworks, technological solutions, and ethical guidelines will sculpt a virtual art space that is secure, equitable, and conducive to creative expression.