AI Voice Cloning Controversy: Scarlett Johansson vs. OpenAI & Implications of the ELVIS Act




Chat GPT, a generative Artificial Intelligence tool by Open AI is the most popular of AI tools used by the masses today. Venturing into a voice assistant model, Open AI released “Sky”, a voice mode feature for Chat GPT. However, people have found striking similarity between Sky and Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson’s voice in the film “Her” released in 2013.

Ms. Johansson raised concerns that Sky’s voice bore an uncanny resemblance to her own, implying that OpenAI might have used her voice or likeness without permission. This taps into the legal concept of “right of publicity,” which grants individuals control over the commercial use of their image or voice. In essence, Johansson suspected OpenAI was profiting by leveraging a voice similar to hers.

OpenAI vehemently denied replicating Johansson’s voice, claiming they hired a separate voice actress, and the similarity was purely coincidental. Despite their rebuttal, the situation remains unresolved. Johansson reportedly secured legal representation and demanded more information from OpenAI. OpenAI, on the other hand, temporarily suspended the “Sky” voice while they addressed the concerns.

This incident exposes the murky legal waters surrounding AI-generated voices. There’s no public confirmation if OpenAI used data linked to Johansson to train their model. Additionally, the legal ramifications of using similar voices for AI models are still being charted. This case could potentially set a precedent for future controversies.

Beyond the legal aspects, the controversy underscores the crucial need for transparency in how AI companies handle voice data. Obtaining informed consent and being upfront about how voices are used within AI models are paramount. As the field of AI continues to evolve, the Johansson-OpenAI case serves as a cautionary tale, prompting discussions on ethical considerations and the importance of clear boundaries in the realm of AI development.

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a growing concern among recording artists, actors, playback singers, music industry and artists in general as it disarms the artist’s protection over their copyright and personality rights. It is pertinent to note that for many famous personalities and recording artists, their voice is one of the key elements of their personality that can be effectively monetised and commercially exploited. Thus, non-consensual use of AI to imitate their voices results into violation of not only their personality rights, in some cases their moral rights but also a missed commercial opportunity. Hence, there should be a proper consent and regulatory framework in place to avoid unauthorised use of AI to imitate voices.
The ability to create deepfakes and voice clones raised questions about the legal boundaries of such technology Existing copyright laws might not have adequately addressed the unique challenges posed by AI, leaving artists vulnerable.

Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act

The ELVIS Act emerged from this legal grey area, drawing inspiration from the legacy of the Elvis Presley estate’s fight for control over his image. It amends the existing Tennessee Personal Rights Protection Act, which previously only protected an individual’s name, photograph, and likeness from unauthorized commercial use. The crucial difference lies in the explicit inclusion of “voice” as a protected aspect of likeness This empowers artists with a legal weapon to combat unauthorized commercial use of their voices through AI technology.

The Act establishes both civil and criminal penalties for unauthorized use of an artist’s voice. This creates a legal framework that empowers artists to take action against those who misuse their voice for commercial purposes. Additionally, the Act includes exemptions for fair use under copyright law, ensuring that legitimate artistic expression and parody are not stifled.

The ELVIS Act represents a significant leap forward in protecting artists’ rights in the digital age. It sets a precedent for other states and potentially the federal government to follow suit in crafting legislation that regulates the use of AI in relation to artistic expression. While the Act is a positive step, some argue that its true effectiveness will depend on how it’s enforced. Challenges may arise in determining what constitutes unauthorized use and how to handle situations where AI technology is used in transformative ways.

In conclusion, the ELVIS Act marks a crucial first step in safeguarding artists’ voices in the age of AI. By establishing legal protections and setting a national precedent, the Act sends a clear message: artists have ownership over their unique voice, and technology must be used ethically and responsibly.

Author: Deveesha Tudekar


Interns and Paralegals.


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