In October 2021, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his vision about the Metaverse. But what exactly does this concept entail?
The term was first mentioned in the sci-fi novel ”Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson in 1992 and can be best explained by means of cross-reference to the novel. Stephenson's "Metaverse" appears to its users as an urban environment with virtual real estate owned by the Global Multimedia Protocol Group. Access to the Metaverse is attained through a global fiber-optic network in the user’s personal terminal that project a high-quality virtual reality display onto goggles worn by the user. In Stephenson’s Metaverse users appear as avatars of any form and interestingly, a lot of users choose to stay permanently connected to the Metaverse by wearing portable terminals or goggles. The book commences in Los Angeles in the 21st century, after an undetermined number of a worldwide economic collapse. The story depicts America where the demands of entrepreneurs have won over the aspirations of a free and egalitarian society.
After roughly 30 years, Mark Zuckerberg transforms Stephenson’s fiction into reality. In an influential essay by the venture capitalist Matthew Ball he sets out the key characteristics of the 2022 Metaverse - ‘ it has to span the physical and virtual worlds; contain a fully-fledged economy; and offer “unprecedented interoperability” — users have to be able to take their avatars and goods from one place in the metaverse to another, no matter who runs that particular part of it. No company will run the metaverse — it will be an “embodied internet,” operated by many different players in a decentralized way’ .
For a society (physical or virtual) to be regarded as such, it must participate in a functional economy. In the 2022 Metaverse, the economy depends on authentication of digital properties – e.g. Metaverse home, car, farm, books, clothing and furniture. To function, it needs the ability to trade freely between spheres that might have different laws and rules. In the 2022 Metaverse, this is done by means of non-fungible (i.e. not modifiable and not replicable) tokens – records of digital ownership stored in the blockchain. Each NFT is secured by a cryptographic key that cannot be deleted, copied or destroyed, thus enabling decentralised verification.
At present, Bloomberg Intelligence estimates the Metaverse as an $800 billion market opportunity to be reached in 2024. It is envisaged that the total Metaverse market size may reach 2.7x that of just gaming software, services and advertising revenue. The ability to bring live events such as concerts, film showings and sports into 3D virtual worlds represent additional revenue opportunities.
Some critics argue that for the Metaverse to be useful to society in general, governments must find a way to tax transactions stemming therefrom. In this vein, it is the author’s opinion that for any developed society the proper functioning of the tax system lies at the core of its economy. In a sense, the tax system is the heart of the functioning organism (i.e. the State) which further fosters the growth of the national economy, the fair distribution of social resources and the provision of basic public services.
With the new era of the web in the face of Web 3.0 , it is only natural and reasonable to ask ourselves whether it is necessary to incorporate the Metaverse economy into the taxation system?
The present article explores whether the current state of the Bulgarian tax legal framework captures Metaverse economic activity. Based on the Bulgarian Personal Income Tax Act (“PITA”) residents of Bulgaria bear the obligation to pay taxes for income sourced in Bulgaria and abroad. In other words, Bulgarian tax residents are subject to worldwide taxation by virtue of PITA.
Tax residents of Bulgaria are defined as any natural person, regardless of nationality, who:
1) has a permanent address in Bulgaria, or
2) who is present within the territory of Bulgaria for a period exceeding 183 days in any twelve-month period, or
3) who is sent abroad by the Bulgarian State, by bodies and/or organisations thereof, by Bulgarian enterprises, and the members of the family of any such person, or
4) whose centre of vital interests is situated in Bulgaria.
(2) a person shall be deemed to be a resident during the year where within the presence thereof in Bulgaria exceeds 183 days. […]
It follows that if users of Metaverse are tax residents of Bulgaria, their economic activities in Metaverse (including but not limited to sale/purchase of NFTs, sale/purchase of immovable/movable property, inheritance of virtual assets, virtual currency) will quite likely fall within the ambit of PITA.
Now that we have established that chances that Bulgarian tax residents are statutory taxpayers as Metaverse users, are considerable, we will now assess whether transactions occurred in the Metaverse market are subject to tax.
Generally, PITA recognizes the following types of income:
1) income from employment relationships;
2) income from economic activity in a sole-trader capacity;
3) income from other economic activity;
4) income from rent or from other onerous provision for use of rights or property;
5) income from transfer of rights or property;
6) any compensations for lost profit and damages of such nature;
7) any interest, including such within payments under a lease contract;
8) any producer dividends distributed by cooperatives;
9) exercise of intellectual property rights by succession;
10) all other sources which are not expressly specified under PITA and whereon final taxes are not levied according to the procedure established by PITA or whereon final taxes are not levied according to the procedure established by the Corporate Income Tax Act .
In the Metaverse various economic operators can conduct diversified transactions between real world and Metaverse (or strictly within the Metaverse). It is natural that in this way, various personal income such as labor remuneration, transfer of property, dividend distribution can be derived. It is in the author’s opinion that PITA provides an extensive list of income that can be subject to personal income taxation. Noteworthy is the “umbrella income” listed under item 10 above. Under the said item, it follows that in case a Bulgarian tax resident derives income that has not been expressly specified under PITA, and is not income covered by CITA, will still be covered by PITA.
Thus, on a pure theoretical level the business activities of Bulgarian tax residents in the Metaverse and the income obtained therefrom can be included in the tax system of Bulgaria. It should be noted that for this income to be included in the tax liability of Metaverse users, a system of checks and supervision on behalf of the tax authorities should be implemented.
In the absence of such supervision, it will be challenging for the tax authorities to track the economic activities in Metaverse, which will ultimately result in tax revenue losses and disparity of social equity. Conversely, the argument exists that governments, by exercising supervision and taxing powers over economic activity in the 3.0 Web will legitimize the Metaverse. To exemplify, a proper royalty supervision system in the Metaverse can not only protect the rights and obligations of participants in the NFT trading market but can also foster the collection of taxes.
Therefore, although on a pure theoretical level PITA may encompass income derived within the Metaverse, the tax authorities might face an obstacle in terms of supervision. To that end, a clear and precise tax legal framework covering Metaverse economic activity, and maybe opening of a permanent establishment of the National Revenue Agency within the Metaverse could mitigate the risk of tax losses.
 In contrast to fiat currencies which are fungible (i.e. interchangeable).
 Web 3.0 or Web3 is an idea for a new iteration of the World Wide Web based on the blockchain, which incorporates concepts including decentralization and token-based economics. Some technologists and journalists have contrasted it with Web 2.0, wherein they say data and content are centralized in a small group of companies sometimes referred to as " Big Tech".
 Article 6 of PITA.