In her monthly Expert Take column, Selva Ozelli, an international tax attorney and CPA, covers the intersection between emerging technologies and sustainability, and provides the latest developments around taxes, AML/CFT regulations and legal issues affecting crypto and blockchain.
In 2021, nonfungible tokens became the biggest disrupter in art, with artists minting, exhibiting and auctioning them and investors buying, selling and trading them. But by May 2022, NFT sales had dropped 92% from the market peak. According to data aggregator Layoffs.fyi, more than 17,000 technology laborers lost their jobs in May. The recent downturn is similar to 2018, when leading cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ether (ETH) fell by 80% or more.
Immune to the digital asset market’s manic depressive volatility, Web3 developers, institutional investors, and regulators preparing to tax metaverse profits are calmly continuing with business as usual across the world.
The NFT bear market might have cautioned high-level financiers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as central banks start to tighten monetary policy against a backdrop of slowing economic activity. And gone are the days when central bankers fretted hedge fund managers — they are more concerned about the new crowd at the door, the “Metaversians,” who are digitizing various aspects of life in 3D with artificial intelligence.
The digital asset market meltdown was foreseen by Brian Shuster, founder and CEO of Canada-based Utherverse, who has developed more than 100 patents and pending patents for core internet technologies and the Metaverse. He told me: “There’s a ton of companies out there building out the Metaverse, and frankly, most companies claiming to offer properties and tokens have dangerously underestimated the complexity of the task at hand.” He continued:
“The digital asset market meltdown is healthy for those companies which offer viable and sustainable Web3 products and technologies such as Ethereum and Avalanche to continue on. I will be launching my Utherverse utility token during 3Q of 2022.”
Meanwhile, Calgary-based Accelerate Financial Technologies announced it would establish the Accelerate Non-Fungible Token (NFT) Fund, targeting high-net-worth investors willing to take a risk on Web3 investment products and digital collectibles available on the blockchain.
With the floor price of some major NFT collections crashing over 50% over the past month amid broad sell-offs, the digital asset market meltdown has not slowed down infrastructural investment into the Metaverse in China, with NFT investment funds and fund of funds popping up every day.
Yifan He, CEO of Red Date (Hong Kong) Technology — a Chinese state-backed blockchain company — told me: “Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN) will launch the national NFT infrastructure in China. The NFT is a digital certificate or a unit of data being stored on the blockchain. Owing to their uniqueness and indivisibility, NFTs are widely used in digital art and copyrighted content. However, their potential use cases go well beyond what we see today in the art world. Technically, an NFT can be applied to any scenario where proof of interest is required, from collectible ownership and IP of creative works to documentation such as ID cards, academic certificates, real estate licenses, etc. The technology can be used to verify the authenticity of documents while also preventing them from being tampered with or stolen, as well as facilitating verification, confirmation and tracking.”
He added: “However, most NFTs today are minted on public chain technologies that are not allowed in the Chinese market. To support NFT technology development in China, the BSN has modified the public chain technologies to ‘open permissioned blockchains’ (OPBs) to overcome the regulatory hurdles in China by replacing cryptocurrency with fiat currency to pay gas fees and requiring permission for node deployment. To decouple the natural association with public chains and cryptocurrency, NFT is renamed Decentralized Digital Certificate, or DDC for short.”
According to He, “BSN-DDC is a digital certificate infrastructure network on BSN China that includes 10 OPBs. BSN-DDC offers network access, core APIs, and SDKs — a one-stop shop for businesses to develop user portals or apps for all types of NFT applications. All payments and transaction fees are paid in fiat currency via BSN-DDC portals. BSN-DDC encourages digital certificate usage beyond the field of art and entertainment collectibles with support for all types of digital certifications, documents, tickets, identification, intellectual property and more.”
“The BSN-DDC network currently is the most diverse, transparent, affordable, user-friendly blockchain infrastructure that supports the legal deployment of NFTs within China. It will officially launch by the end of January 2022 to support the mass adoption of NFTs in China,” concluded He.
The film industry is tapping NFTs for funding movies, with nonfungible tokens making a big splash at the Cannes Film Festival.
In France, the movie Plush, which is set to be released in 2023, will be co-produced by the investing community through the sale of NFTs. NFT holders will receive a share of the film’s profits and be granted attendance at special screenings, and they may even see their beloved NFTs come to life in the movie.
Harshavardhana Kikkeri, founder and CEO of HoloWorld — a metaworld that hosts “phygital” (physical and digital) metaverses in education, sports, robotics and security — has designed HoloSuit, which contains 40 embedded sensors to track the movements of a wearer’s arms, legs and fingers, presenting them digitally to enhance interactions in the phygital world.
Japanese multinational company Sony intends to be a leader in the metaverse and AI spaces by leveraging “the unique strengths provided by its diverse businesses and expertise in game technology, which will form the basis of entertainment experiences going forward.”
The company has partnered with Manchester City FC and plans to create “new entertainment experiences” around live sporting events, and it’s also looking into the music industry and the potential of offering live virtual performances from Sony Music artists. As Sony’s CEO, Kenichiro Yoshida, explained:
“The metaverse is at the same time a social space and live network space where games, music, movies and anime intersect.”
Riaz Mehta, founder and CEO of Singapore-based Ritestream, explained to me: “We are the team behind the leading watch-to-earn platform, Ritestream — a film and TV launchpad to fund, monetize and distribute content through leveraging blockchain technology. On the interactive app, you can watch your favorite shows and get rewarded in $RITE coin; enjoy metaverse cinemas and virtual date nights; and support content, actors and celebrities by purchasing limited edition NFTs. Not only can these NFTs help fund the shows, but they also allow users to buy and own part of them, giving them producer credits and future earning potential should the shows become popular. We have an exclusive deal to issue NFTs for the upcoming film Stealing McCloud, inspired by John McAfee, the controversial software mogul who was found dead in a Spanish prison cell in 2021 [where he was being held] for U.S. tax evasion. We’re excited to be revolutionizing how we all consume and fund content with an app where it quite simply pays to watch.”
Metacurio VS Singapore, a new joint venture between Metacurio and VS Media, will be the exclusive home for VS Media and its intellectual property, spanning segments like creating, marketing and distributing NFTs. Metacurio will offer its experience in Web3-focused creative and NFT collectability strategies and more. It will also bring its client base, having relationships with over 70 top talents and brands.
Persistence is building an ecosystem of multichain Web3 products for retail and institutional users, allowing for the creation and exchange of NFTs across chains and building products to generate opportunities and address challenges around the proof-of-stake consensus mechanism in a multichain environment.
Nelson Mandela, a revolutionary and anti-apartheid leader who served as the first democratically elected president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, entered the Metaverse with the first Mandelaverse NFT — a collaboration between the Mandela family, TinyWins, Phoenix James Art Haus and Range Media Partners. The charitable Web3 project includes four NFT collections whose proceeds benefit the Mandela Education Program, an initiative to expand access to books to children in Africa and beyond and revolutionize how philanthropy can work.
Following Avalanche’s first-ever summit in Barcelona, the first Spanish Ethereum conference will be held in the same city from July 6 to 8. This comes as Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin is calling for Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-like protection for small crypto investors in the face of the recent market meltdown.
Roberto de Arquer, co-founder and chief metaverse officer of Spain-based Gamium, explained:
“We are building the first decentralized social metaverse and the digital identity of humans.”
Gamium World is a 3D, fully immersive environment that allows users to access Gamium’s decentralized social metaverse. Player avatars create the world and can build experiences through the Gamium software development kit, including buying and selling land.
Elsewhere in the Metaverse, holders of NFTs related to video game real estate have lost thousands to millions of dollars from transaction fees, phishing attacks, rug pulls and more. In a Reddit comment, u/MDKAOD recently explained the virtual real estate business: “Entropia Universe (formerly Project Entropia) has had land deeds since the early 2000’s. John ‘Neverdie’ Jacobs is the big name DJ who owns an entire space station in that game and now there are whole ‘partner planets’ owned (at least in history) by Lemmy from Motorhead, Michael Jackson’s estate (at least was in talks at one point, I don’t know if it ever materialized) and at least one other big profile name that escapes me.” He continued:
“Virtual real estate has always been unobtainable and as far as I’m concerned has always been a way to launder money.”
Mehmet Eryilmaz, founder of Turkey-based Faro, explained to me: “Faro is a tokenized entertainment company that produces films and TV content, owns music catalogs and IP, and manages live entertainment and Web3 representation rights. The company leverages peak interest in local content, soaring production budgets, Turkey’s content export success and post-COVID live entertainment demand with forward-looking Web3 themes of collective ownership and fan-based utility-focused new businesses. Faro’s operations are backed by physical world recurring revenue media assets. Faro tokenholders can invest and profit from revenue rights from all Faro productions and assets. Furthermore, they get access, utility and generate revenues from all fan-centric NFT offerings.” He added, “Faro wants to scale its business across emerging markets with the same model.”
Refik Anadol, the first artist to use artificial intelligence in an immersive public artwork — and whose work was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — has been unphased by the NFT market downturn. During April and May, he continued to sell his NFTs. The sales for his “An Important Memory for Humanity” collection totaled $6.2 million, and a one-of-one NFT titled “Living Architecture: Casa Batlló” fetched $1.38 million via his first auction at Christie’s.
United Arab Emirates
Lokesh Rao, CEO and co-founder of Trace Network Labs — which has offices in the United Arab Emirates — explained to me that his platform “enables brands, especially fashion, to create new categories of unique digital products which can be used to exchange product details with various Web2 and Web3 platforms.” Recently, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Tribute Brand, The Fabricant, Institute of Digital Fashion and Red DAO showcased fashion NFTs at the Decentral Art Pavilion in Venice and discussed the future of the industry.
By 2030, metaverse technology is expected to contribute $4 billion to the economy of Dubai and support the creation of 42,000 virtual jobs.
Popular NFT collection Bored Ape Yacht Club, created by United States-based Yuga Labs, saw its floor price plunge to 88 Ether (ETH) (about $153,000) on May 27, down from 138 ETH (over $390,000 at the time) a month prior.
In a Reddit comment, u/Dr_Eastman shared their market analysis for the severe drop in prices:
“Seriously why the fuck would I want to buy a receipt of a monkey pic for higher than what the first buyer bought it for?”
This is particularly salient given that U.S. courts say computer- or AI-generated art and music has no copyright protection.
Nevertheless, Bill Starkov, founder of the Apocalyptic Apes NFT project, thinks “a correction is super healthy for the crypto/NFT space,” as he told me. The project’s female-led Queen Ape collection and second NFT drop raised over $1.5 million and sold out in under three hours, just before the downturn. Investors in the space are now using this downturn to go NFT shopping like it’s Black Friday. 15 Queen Ape NFTs were recently revealed to be one-of-one music NFTs, paired with songs by emerging music artists. “This is a huge opportunity for emerging artists to push forward their careers through Web3 by attaching themselves and promoting their music to an already established, loyal and passionate NFT community,” said Starkov. “In addition, we’re giving a generous revenue share of 45% streaming to the holders of these Queen Ape music NFTs. This is an opportunity for emerging artists to be introduced to thousands of people who will be incentivized to promote them.” Other female-led NFT projects include DeadFellaz and Gutter Cat Gang.
PolyientX, a Web3 innovator providing tools to gain more value and utility from NFTs, launched a product allowing NFT holders of selected projects to claim weekly rewards. “In the years we have been innovating in the NFT space, two things have become painstakingly clear,” said PolyientX’s head of product, Nick Casares.
“NFTs have tremendous growth potential and NFT communities want additional value. PX Drops serves to merge these opportunities.”
Thirty years after releasing her infamous book Sex, pop icon Madonna collaborated with digital artist Beeple to create three charitable NFTs portraying her nude avatar with environmental themes. Hip-hop legend Jim Jones teamed up with Mogul for an NFT, while musical legend Katy Perry offered her De Soi NFTs via FlickPlay — “a social metaverse platform that is interoperable with Tik Tok-like engagement, Pokemon Go-esque gameplay, and AR camera features built to offer real-world utility to digital NFT accessories,” Pierina Merino, FlickPlay’s founder and CEO, explained to me.
In the world of sports, baseball living legend Miguel Cabrera partnered with FlickPlay, basketball stars Andre Drummond and Ty Jerome partnered with Chibi Dinos, former basketball champion and fashion icon Dennis Rodman partnered with Jeff Hood of MetaCurio, while the McLaren Formula 1 Team and McLaren Shadow esports team partnered with OKX to launch their NFTs.
In the world of games, “NiftyChess, a Web3 startup, established Treasure.Chess.com in partnership with Chess.com to create the first NFT marketplace enabling the purchase, sale, creation and collection of NFTs of chess games, including by chess masters, without needing to buy cryptocurrency first,” explained co-founders Patrick Gallagher and Joseph Schiarizzi.
But you need not be a legend, icon, star or master to get noticed in the metaverse, believe Akbar Hamid and Simone Berry, founders of People of Crypto Lab (POC) — a creative and innovation lab dedicated to increasing diversity, participation and representation in Web3. Its mission is to build the metaverse blueprint for inclusion across Web3 by developing, investing and promoting brands with diverse stories, teams and projects. Berry explained:
“I firmly believe that Web3 can only scale if diversity and inclusion are rooted in the foundation of what is being built. Black and brown women, people of color and LGBTQIA+ people have combined spending power and unprecedented cultural influence that dwarfs the influence of any other community. Culture drives commerce, which is why we need to actively educate and onboard these communities in order to ensure an equitable, profitable future for Web3.”
Microsoft, Apple and Meta lead in developing metaverse technology. Web3 game developer Epic, which hosted pop star Ariana Grande’s metaverse concert, has shown unprecedented global scale and revenue during the pandemic. It is also embroiled in a patent infringement lawsuit with Utherverse and has said it will fight Apple and Google to keep the Metaverse open.
Regarding Vietnam, Tri Pham — co-founder of KardiaChain and founder of Whydah — told me: “KardiaChain is the first decentralized interoperable and self-optimized blockchain infrastructure. We aim to create a unified platform that combines all participants’ collective strengths to lay the foundation for global blockchain mass adoption.”
OECD’s digital asset public consultation document
Digital assets and businesses established in the Metaverse are among several issues presenting challenges for countries relating to cross-border tax, money laundering, consumer protection and personal data legislation. For this reason, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a public consultation document on March 22 on a new global framework for fiscal transparency that would allow the presentation of reports and the exchange of information regarding crypto assets. It also covers proposed amendments to the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for countries’ automatic exchange of information regarding financial accounts.
The new framework would increase the ability of participating countries’ tax authorities to monitor the transactions residents make on foreign cryptocurrency exchanges. Most, if not all, of the 100-plus countries participating in the CRS are expected to adopt it.
The U.S. has already adopted measures requiring taxpayers to report digital asset tax information.
At a public consultation meeting on May 23, the crypto industry urged the OECD to implement the framework in phases.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Selva Ozelli, Esq., CPA, is an international tax attorney and certified public accountant who frequently writes about tax, legal and accounting issues for Tax Notes, Bloomberg BNA, other publications and the OECD.