justice, right, legal

“Navigating the Legal Frontiers of Virtual Fashion and Virtual Fashion Influencers”

Abstract:

The fast advancement of technology has resulted in remarkable advances in a variety of industries, and the fashion world is no exception. The boundaries between the actual and virtual worlds have become increasingly hazy in the fashion business as a result of the rise of virtual influencers and the expansion of digital fashion. This dynamic intersection of fashion and technology is changing the industry by bringing in new paradigms, upending established conventions, and changing the landscape. As the virtual world continues to transform the fashion and marketing sectors, a thorough awareness of the legal implications is critical. This research paper tries to explain the growth of virtual fashion and virtual fashion influencers, and their legal framework and implications. The objective of the paper is to provide thoughtful suggestions on how to handle the legal complexities brought up by the ever-changing relationship between fashion and technology. It seeks to advance a sophisticated understanding of the legal aspects of the dynamic field of virtual fashion and its relationship to the larger fashion and marketing industries through this research.

Keywords: Virtual Fashion, Virtual Fashion Influencers, Legal Framework, Legal Implication

Introduction:

The term “virtual fashion” describes how apparel and accessories are represented and explored digitally in the virtual world. This new trend creates immersive and interactive fashion experiences by utilising state-of-the-art technology such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and 3D modelling. Designers may exhibit their works in a virtual setting through virtual fashion, opening up new possibilities for online sale, sustainability, and innovation. It changes the way the real and digital worlds interact, influencing how the fashion business develops in the future. Virtual fashion expands beyond design to also include customer experiences. Through the use of smartphones and augmented reality, consumers can “try on” virtual clothing, creating a more customised and engaging shopping experience. Virtual fashion shows, which are conducted in digital environments, provide an alternative to traditional runway events by addressing a worldwide audience without geographical limitations.

Virtual influencers, computer-generated imagery (CGI), or animated characters imitate humanistic features and personalities in order to build strong relationships with the target audience. They are as similar to people as possible thanks to the efforts of talented designers, painters, and linguists. Beyond their external look, these digital humanoids’ integrated technologies enable them to provide the necessary relatability, reachability, and curiosity through their customised content. These digital avatars allow brands to modify everything from their appearance to how they showcase products. They are being utilised in a variety of sectors, including as gaming, entertainment, fashion, and cosmetics.

The link between virtual fashion and virtual influencers is a mutually beneficial union of creativity and digital expression. Virtual influencers provide as the perfect platforms for showcasing the virtual fashion industry’s boundless potential, enabling designers to explore cutting-edge looks and future aesthetics that could be difficult or unfeasible in the real world. Virtual fashion, on the other hand, gives these virtual characters a continually growing wardrobe, allowing them to keep up with the latest styles and enthral viewers in a visually stimulating and ever-changing digital world. Together, they create a dynamic pair that is reshaping the digital space where fashion and technology converge.

Research Methodology:

This paper’s research approach is doctrinal, analytical and descriptive. Research has been conducted using online legal libraries. It is based on research papers, books, law reviews, and certain online resources. The relevant sections of various statutes, acts and laws are also used. This research is being done through analytical method, subjective method and objective methods. This project’s study was conducted using the doctrinal technique, as it is the most convenient and appropriate method. The concept can be understood through already available information and enables for the resolution of issues by the use of knowledge, interprets, queries and questions.

Review of Literature:

The article “Virtual Fashion Influencers: The New Face of Your Favorite Brand?[1] has been referred for the research. It provides details into what are virtual fashion influencers, how they have gained prominence and how they are increasingly used by brands to gain prominence and popularity. The article has also been used to understand the benefits and drawbacks of virtual influencers. This article has helped to provide an understanding of virtual fashion influencers and their position in the fashion industry.

The article, “Digital Fashion: Done Before It Started?[2] is used, which traces the origins of virtual fashion, how it started in the gaming industry and has now been increasingly used in the fashion industry. It also traces the growth of virtual fashion and its future scope.

The research paper has utilised the article “Rise of Virtual Fashion and Legal Concerns[3]. It talks about virtual fashion, its origin and its growth over the years. The article also elucidates about the use of digital technology by various fashion brands and how they try to integrate it and move forward. It also provides details regarding the possible legal challenges posed by virtual fashion.

The article “Unreal Humans but Real Laws – A Saga of Virtual Influencers[4] has been relied on for the research. It provides data for the growth of virtual influencers, the existing legal frameworks for the same and the legal challenges posed by them.

Growth of Virtual Fashion Industry:

Since 2010, the digital fashion sector has been rapidly expanding, and video games are largely responsible for the concept of virtual apparel. Despite the fact that these products have no bearing whatsoever on gameplay, users have been purchasing skins, apparel, and accessories for their virtual avatars. Then it became evident that individuals are prepared to spend a high price to dress up their character and make it stand out from the crowd.

As of right now, the game skins business is projected to be worth $40 billion annually. A number of high-end fashion labels, like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Diesel, and Adidas, have already introduced virtual apparel for the metaverse. Additionally, this business can grow to $50 billion in the upcoming years.

In 2015, 3D designer Cat Taylor (Cattytay) set the standard for the emergence of digital fashion. She was the first to bring Balenciaga, Gucci, and Off-White into the digital sphere and founded the Digi-GXL initiative, which specialised in producing 3D animations. Global businesses were drawn to Brud’s development of the digital influencer Lil Miquela in 2016, which resulted in partnerships and advertisements. Virtue agency and Carlings were the first companies to offer virtual clothing in 2018, and they were incredibly successful. An Iridescent dress by The Fabricant, the most expensive virtual garment ever sold for $9,500 in May 2019. People moved online during the COVID-19 epidemic, which drove the trend towards digital fashion by decreasing the necessity for physical wardrobes. Well-known companies like Balenciaga and Gucci joined the market and held virtual fashion shows. Due to this increased demand, niche markets where users could try on and buy virtual clothing were created, such as Dress-X and The Fabricant.

Growth of Virtual Influencers:

The marketing efforts of virtual influencers are akin to those of actual influencers. Brands may collaborate with virtual influencers to raise brand awareness if they have an extensive fan following. Customers that follow virtual influencers on social media frequently identify new companies or remember those that are already well-known.[5]

According to a 2022 Influencer Marketing Factory poll, 35% of customers said they had purchased a product recommended by a virtual influencer, and 58% of participants followed at least one virtual influencer.[6] Numerous fashion firms are experimenting with the power of virtual influencers for digital communications in order to fully realise the potential.

Lil Miquela, a well-known virtual influencer with over 2.8 million Instagram followers, has already collaborated with brands such as Prada, Dior, and Calvin Klein. This virtual influencer, who has over 2.8 million Instagram followers, is also well-known as a model and social activist. The 19-year-old robot girl is expected to bring in over $10 million for Brud, the firm that made her, according to a Bloomberg report.

Additionally, retailers and high-end fashion labels are developing their own online spokespersons. For example, Prada debuted “Candy,” their digital muse, in 2021. Candy promoted a fragrance line of the same name with social media, short films, and print ads.[7]

First, time and money may be saved by using virtual influencers for digital marketing campaigns. Virtual influencers do not need cosmetics and styling teams, travel, or lodging for photoshoots, in contrast to actual models. Furthermore, it would be less expensive to negotiate for advertising and hire virtual influencers than it would be to hire real-life celebrities. Second, because they don’t have real lives, virtual influencers are less likely to get implicated in controversies. Rather, the brands or organisations who produced the influencers will be in charge of the words, actions, and personalities of those virtual influencers, giving them the ability to produce lifestyle content that aligns with the brand. By doing this, the reputational harm that rumours and scandals regarding their virtual ambassadors might generate can be reduced. Finally, companies can use virtual influencers to create commercials and campaigns with virtually endless creative possibilities as they can travel anywhere and wear anything since they are digital constructs.

The usage of virtual influencers has many benefits, but there may be drawbacks for companies. It may be challenging for businesses to choose how realistic to make their in-house virtual ambassadors. According to research, “the uncanny valley effect” refers to the tendency for customers to become uneasy when an artificial figure closely resembles a human being in terms of appearance or behaviour. Furthermore, virtual influencers are unable to offer genuine experiences and use or wear the marketed items in person. Customers can conclude that virtual influencers are dishonest and unreliable as a result of this and their marketing efforts. If the possible issues are overcome, virtual influencers may outperform human celebrities. Virtual influencers have the potential to become into useful tools for advertising over time.

Legal Challenges in Virtual Fashion:

The rapidly developing field of virtual fashion, which sits at the nexus of technology and fashion, faces several legal obstacles as it develops. Intellectual property rights are a major concern, especially when it comes to virtual clothing and designs. Conventional intellectual property regulations, like trademark and copyright, were created with physical items in mind, thus there are special difficulties in adapting them to the virtual world. Comprehending the extent of protection afforded to virtual designs, averting unapproved duplication or alteration, and managing ownership concerns in cooperative virtual settings are all intricate legal matters.

Another legal issue is the issue of liability in virtual fashion experiences. Concerns about potential harm or discontent grow as more and more customers use augmented reality platforms to try on virtual clothes or purchase virtually. Legal concerns that require careful consideration include those relating to misrepresentation of virtual items, deceptive advertising, or even emotional distress arising from a bad virtual fashion experience.

Another crucial component of the legal environment in virtual fashion is data privacy. Virtual try-on experiences frequently entail the gathering and processing of user data, which raises questions around data security, permission, and possible abuse. Virtual fashion firms have to walk a legal tightrope between protecting user privacy and offering personalised virtual fashion experiences.

Hermès International, et al. v. Mason Rothschild[8], is one of the first cases to address the hi-tech new art world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a New York jury ruled on Wednesday that an artist violated the trademark rights of the French fashion house Hermès by selling pictures of furry, copycat purses as NFTs. The jury ruled that artist Mason Rothschild’s unauthorized versions of Hermès’s iconic Birkin bags, which the artist covered in fur, featured in an image collection he dubbed “MetaBirkins” and sold for a total of over $1m, were likely to confuse consumers. This case is one of the remarkable cases in upcoming field of virtual fashion which has set a legal framework for similar issues arising in the future.

Nike sued StockX over StockX’s Vault NFTs, accusing the company of violating its trademark. Nike also said it was able to buy counterfeit sneakers on the StockX online marketplace. The Nike, Inc. v. StockX LLC[9] case has the potential to set some legal guidelines for NFTs, which currently have minimal restrictions. 

In Eastern Book Company & Ors v. D.B.Modak & Anr.[10], a compilation in copyright may only be asserted if the designs are created with work and skill rather than merely being a byproduct of labour and wealth. This has provided clarity on what would get protection of intellectual property rights.

The arena of virtual fashion lacks proper legal framework, however, the landmark judgements have played a crucial role is addressing the legal issues of the virtual fashion industry.

The legal framework pertaining to the virtual fashion business is expected to undergo evolution in combination with its further advancement. Policymakers, legal experts, and industry stakeholders must work together to solve these difficulties in order to establish a viable and ethical virtual fashion ecosystem that safeguards both artists and consumers in this dynamic digital context.

Legal Challenges of Virtual Fashion Influencers:

Virtual fashion influencers provide a variety of intricate and rising legal issues that need to be taken into account. As these virtual companies become more well-known and powerful in the fashion sector, a number of legal concerns surface.

The protection of intellectual property rights is one such issue. Virtual fashion influencers frequently dress in original and imaginative ensembles, accessories, and ideas. It can be difficult to identify who owns these digital works and how to handle situations involving copyright violations or intellectual property issues. Critical issues that the legal system must address are those of originality in virtual fashion designs and the potential scope of copyright protection.

A further legal obstacle is the possibility of deceptive actions. Due of their computer-generated nature, virtual influencers have the ability to blur the lines between fact and fiction. There may be concerns about deceptive advertising, misrepresentation, and the possible influence on customers’ decisions to buy. It could be necessary for regulators to set rules in order to guarantee openness in the virtual fashion influencer market and shield customers from dishonest tactics. On January 20, 2023, the Department of Consumer Affairs of the Ministry of Food and Public Distribution released a series of recommendations known as the “Endorsements Know-hows!” for social media influencers and celebrities for addressing the issue of regulation for influencer endorsements. Noncompliance with the Endorsement “Failure to disclose any material connection or non-compliance of the Consumer Protection Act 2019[11] and Rules made thereunder would make such violators liable for strict action under the law,” according to Know-How rules, which leads to a “warning.” Consequently, celebrities and influencers, whether real or virtual, may face fines up to Rupees Ten Lakhs as a result of the Consumer Protection Act of 2019. Additionally, they run the possibility of being barred from endorsing any item or service for a maximum of one year (as per Section 21[12] of the aforementioned Consumer Protection Act, this ban can be extended to three years for each successive violation).

Contractual problems can also arise in the interactions between companies and virtual influencers. Conventional contracts could not sufficiently cover the special circumstances of virtual influencer partnerships, including ownership of virtual assets, the length of the influencer’s “existence,” and the conditions of any licence agreements. It is a legal difficulty that calls for careful attention to design contracts that take these intricacies into account while safeguarding the interests of both parties.

Data privacy is still another important factor. Data is a common source of inspiration for virtual influencers, who gather details on user preferences, interactions, and behaviours. It becomes crucial to guarantee adherence to data protection laws and handle issues with user privacy and permission. In the virtual influencer ecosystem, finding the ideal balance between privacy and customisation is a constant legal problem.

Furthermore, if virtual influencers advance in sophistication, problems with online abuse and defamation might also surface. It could be necessary to modify current legal frameworks to fit this unique situation in order to determine accountability for harmful content created by or directed towards virtual influencers.

Virtual fashion influencers face a wide range of legal issues that include contracts, data privacy, consumer protection, intellectual property, and more. These issues are always changing. Legal frameworks and rules will probably need to change as the sector expands in order to handle these particular difficulties and guarantee an equitable and open virtual influencer environment.

Suggestions and Conclusion:

Important considerations emerge in view of the legal issues involving influencers and virtual fashion. It is crucial to define intellectual property rights precisely and clearly, which calls for a deep comprehension of the rules that are always changing. To reduce the likelihood of conflicts, it is essential to write thorough contracts for virtual influencers that cover content ownership, usage rights, and remuneration terms. Contracts should be updated on a regular basis to reflect changes in the industry and new regulatory requirements. Transparent agreements encourage cooperation and confidence among stakeholders and help to create a safer virtual fashion environment. Adopting these policies protects interests and encourages the virtual fashion sector to expand lawfully.

In conclusion, the legal implications of virtual fashion and virtual fashion influencers reflect a dynamic and developing terrain that requires careful study. Legal frameworks need to change as the virtual fashion market expands to meet new opportunities and problems. Key concerns like as intellectual property rights, virtual property, and commercial agreements necessitate clear and detailed legislation to safeguard the interests of producers, influencers, and consumers alike. Policymakers, legal experts, and industry players need to work together to create comprehensive and flexible legal frameworks as the virtual fashion sector evolves. This combined effort will not only defend the rights of artists and influencers, but will also build a vibrant and ethical virtual fashion environment for all players. Through careful consideration of these legal issues, society may fully use virtual fashion while maintaining the values of justice, creativity, and accountability to the law.

Radhika Korgaonkar

Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad


[1] Virtual Fashion Influencers: The New Face of Your Favorite Brand?, Wilson College of Textiles (Oct. 3, 2023), https://textiles.ncsu.edu/news/2023/10/virtual-fashion-avatars-the-new-face-of-your-favorite-brand/.

[2] Rodrigo Costa Ribeiro, Digital Fashion: Done Before It Started?, unpublished magazine (Sept. 10, 2022), https://www.unpublishedzine.com/fashion-beauty/digital-fashion-done-before-it-started.

[3] Bhavya Sree, Rise of Virtual Fashion and Legal Concerns, Fashion Law Journal (Jan. 10, 2023), https://fashionlawjournal.com/rise-of-virtual-fashion-and-legal-concerns/.

[4] Mudit Kaushik, Unreal Humans but Real Laws – A Saga of Virtual Influencers, Fashion & Law Journal (Dec. 28, 2022), https://fashionlawjournal.com/unreal-humans-but-real-laws-a-saga-of-virtual-influencers/.

[5] Chen Lou et al., Authentically Fake? How Consumers Respond to the Influence of Virtual Influencers, Journal of Advertising (2022).

[6] Alison Bringé, The Rise Of Virtual Influencers And What It Means For Brand, Forbes Communications Council (Oct. 18, 2022), https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2022/10/18/the-rise-of-virtual-influencers-and-what-it-means-for-brands/?sh=7aacfa6f6b56.

[7] Sofia de la Cruz, What influencer marketing looks like in the metaverse, Vogue Business (Dec. 7, 2021), https://www.voguebusiness.com/technology/what-influencer-marketing-looks-like-in-the-metaverse.

[8] Hermes Int’l v. Rothschild, 22-cv-384 (JSR) (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2023)

[9] Nike, Inc. v. StockX LLC, Civil Action 1:22-cv-00983-VEC (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 14, 2022)

[10] Eastern Book Company v. D.B. Modak, (2008) 1 SCC 1.

[11] The Consumer Protection Act, 2019, No. 35, Act of Parliament, 2019 (India).

[12] The Consumer Protection Act, 2019, § 21, No. 35, Act of Parliament, 2019 (India).