Fame can protect big names but little actors are trapped in murky laws now that AI can replicate what it looks like.
Bruce Willis did not sell the rights to his face.
This is what his agent told the press after a series of widespread reports that the actor entered into a unique agreement with deepfake company to replicate his image via artificial intelligence in upcoming films. However, there is wider uncertainty around the use of famous faces and voices, and the legalities are expected to become more chaotic as more studios choose to use artificial intelligence to replicate the likeness (and voices) of celebrities in movies and commercials.
The confusion about the Die Hard star apparently came from this TV ad last year:
The actor has denied entering into any kind of long-term contract with Russia’s Deepcake, which says it makes digital replicas of celebrities. Deep Cake assured me that there was a misunderstanding. “Deepcake does not own any rights to the digital twin created by the company,” a company spokeswoman said.
In addition, the confusion may have occurred due to Willis’ diagnosis of aphasia, a disorder that affects speech. In March, he announced his retirement from acting. The AI could theoretically fix this by training itself on old recordings of his voice and synthesizing that into new content. It’s been done for other notable actors but there is no plan to do it for Willis.
Artists say they are confused by contracts to do voice work linked to artificial intelligence, according to Equity UK, a union for British voice actors and artists. Could a great player like Willis lose the right not only to his face but also to his voice – even when illness robs him of it?
The basic problem is that technically, AI can repeat faces and voice forever. Contract provisions [for AI work] They often ask performers to sign off on their rights forever,” says Liam Budd, Equity Policy Officer. In April, the union launched a campaign to advance performers’ rights amid “the massive growth of artificial intelligence across the entertainment industry,” Budd said, adding 93% of voice actors consider AI to be a threat to their employment.
To make things more difficult, performers are often required to sign non-disclosure agreements for AI work and find the terms of their contract too confusing. Budd said voice actors are also offered a one-time payment for their work, even when their voices are consistently used elsewhere.
Much of the growth in the AI business has been in video games and TV ads. In India, for example, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan has repeated his voice and face in a Cadbury ad more than 40,000 different times, to allow him to mention a host of local businesses.
This presents a tantalizing prospect for big-name actors and studios: AI can help spread their images and “brands” widely, allowing them to do more work when they don’t have the time.
“We have instances where famous voice actors and great motivational speakers want to extend themselves to different regions,” says Alex Serdyuk, CEO of Respeecher, a Ukrainian artificial intelligence company that has worked to reduce the voices of Mark Hamill and James Earl Jones recently in versions of the Star Wars franchise. Respeecher technology can also convert a person’s speech into different languages. “High-profile personalities are growing their brand and IP, and by using technology, they can increase the audience they cover,” Serdyuk added.
This is a problem as it is profitable. Established players in the industry can take advantage of technology to increase the growth of their brands, while smaller and less well-known artists are at risk of unfair exploitation. Currently, there are no clear laws protecting people from unauthorized synthesis by artificial intelligence of a person’s face, voice, or performance.
When Equity brought this up with the British government, it was told that the UK’s upcoming Internet security law would be the legal framework they needed, according to Budd. But this is a naive misreading of the upcoming law, which is meant to protect people from online harassment, not protect their intellectual property in entertainment.
One potential solution: Equity says it plans to reach out to AI companies to try to strike collective bargaining agreements and better terms and conditions for artists working in AI. The union has not commented on the companies it talks with, nor has it named any names like Respeecher. For its part, the Ukrainian company said it had been talking to unions and was open to talks with industry groups about payment frameworks.
These agreements would add an extraordinary new dynamism to the existing relationship between actors, unions and production studios, which led to industrial labor in the past. The ambiguous payment model for artists may depend on union communication and the response of AI companies. But it will likely take time for these discussions to gain traction, and the rights of artists from Bruce Willis and Shah Rukh Khan to non-famous voice actors will become more and more uncertain.
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