Scarlett Johansson, OpenAI Voice: Lawsuit for threatened actors

The artists were the first to sue. The authors then attacked generative AI companies with a series of lawsuits, followed by publications. As battle lines are drawn over the use of AI tools in Hollywood, actors may be the next group of creators to open another front in what could be an industry-defining legal battle against AI companies over their use of works protected by copyright and personal data to power their chatbots that imitate humans.

On Monday, Scarlett Johansson threatened legal action against OpenAI for allegedly copying and imitating her voice after she refused to license it to the company. According to the actress, OpenAI asked her to be one of the voices called “Sky” for her new artificial intelligence system. She refused, although she said that didn’t stop CEO Sam Altman.

“When I heard the published demo, I was shocked, angry, and incredulous that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and the media couldn’t tell the difference,” she wrote in a release. .

Johansson said the similarity was intentional, noting that Altman tweeted “She,” a reference to her role as an AI assistant who forms an intimate relationship with a human in His. He hired legal counsel, who wrote two letters to OpenAI, directing them to detail the process by which they created the “Sky” voice. Both letters referenced in Johansson’s statement (she wrote them herself) were sent after the Altman-led firm launched its demo and filed multiple potential legal claims, says a person familiar with the situation. The Hollywood Reporter.

“They wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t for the letters,” says this source. “This wasn’t just a ‘What’s going on there?’ (letter). This was much more aggressive and forceful.”

OpenAI has abandoned “Sky,” but the specter of litigation looms over the company as it faces legal trouble based on its technology.

The legal threat follows the filing of a proposed class-action lawsuit in federal court in New York against Berkeley-based artificial intelligence startup LOVO, accusing the company of stealing and profiting from actors’ voices, as well as those of top-level talents like Johansson. Ariana Grande and Conan O’Brien. It is believed to be the first lawsuit against an AI company over the use of images to train an AI system and marks a growing divide between creators and companies that allegedly indiscriminately amass troves of copyrighted works and data. to boost their technology.

For SAG-AFTRA, OpenAI’s mistake couldn’t have come at a better time. There has been a rise in artificial intelligence services that allow users to replicate members’ images without consent or compensation. The union has bombarded lawmakers by arguing for a federal right of publicity law in the absence of federal laws covering the use of AI to mimic the likeness of actors. A patchwork of state right-of-publicity laws has filled the void, but OpenAI’s alleged theft of Johansson’s voice underscores the limitations of the current legal landscape.

“The incident highlights the importance of protecting your voice in the age of AI. It is no longer science fiction to easily clone a voice, it is scientific fact,” says a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson. “Whether you are a professional artist looking to protect your career or an individual looking to protect the words attributed to you, the need for federal protection is now.”

SAG-AFTRA has been involved in introducing three bills in Congress, including two that would create federal voice and likeness rights and another that would criminalize non-consensual deepfaked sexual images. That’s not all, with union efforts to discourage the use of AI in production. New York is considering legislation that would ban tax credits when AI is used to displace labor. In March, Tennessee enacted first-of-its-kind legislation prohibiting the use of AI to imitate a person’s voice, with violations classified as a criminal offense.

The union maintains that training artificial intelligence systems based on the image of its members without consent is a violation of their rights. A court is likely to decide the issue.

With an A-list celebrity publicly clashing with OpenAI, the incident demonstrates a growing divide between the tech companies encroaching on Hollywood and creators who fear being displaced by the tools they may have inadvertently helped create. There is growing distrust towards artificial intelligence companies, with many believing that the company led by Altman is not operating in good faith.

OpenAI CTO Mira Murati said in a livestream in March that the voice assistant was not meant to sound like the actress. And before Johansson published her side of the story, the company said in a blog post that it “believed AI voices should not deliberately imitate a celebrity’s distinctive voice,” while omitting information that the actress he refused to license his voice.

OpenAI executives have repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether its text-to-video conversion tool, Sora, was trained on YouTube videos, and Murati said the company used “publicly available data and licensed data.” He also does not disclose the materials used to train his artificial intelligence system, attributing the decision to maintaining a competitive advantage over other companies. The company has been sued by several authors accusing it of using their copyrighted books, most of which were downloaded from parallel library sites.

There’s a distinct Silicon Valley spirit in OpenAI’s actions: asking for forgiveness, not permission.

“If they can do this to Ms. Johansson, imagine what they’ll do to a 23-year-old screenwriter who’s just starting out,” says Justin Nelson, a lawyer for authors suing OpenAI and Microsoft, “or to some actor who’s just starting out.” She moved to Hollywood and has nowhere near the resume” as the actress.

Although Johansson is unlikely to file a lawsuit now that OpenAI has abandoned “Sky,” essentially granting her an injunction without having to file a lawsuit, OpenAI faced an uphill battle in court if it faced litigation, according to legal experts. consulted by THR.

A lawsuit by Bette Midler against Ford over a series of commercials called “The Yuppie Campaign” in which the company used an impersonator of the singer to imitate her voice may be instructive. Like Johansson, Midler was asked to sing for advertisements, but she declined. Ford later hired a voice impersonator to sing one of her songs in the commercial. After it aired, “several people” told her she “sounded exactly” like her, according to court documents.

After the federal judge overseeing the case granted summary judgment to Ford, finding no right preventing the use of his voice, Midler appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That court ultimately determined that the singer’s voice is distinctive to her identity, from which Ford benefited. The ruling establishes rights over non-copyrighted identifiers, such as a voice, when it involves an individual famous for that characteristic.

Essential to the court’s order were Ford’s motivations for using a Midler impersonator. Questions the judges asked included why the company asked Midler to sing if her voice was not valuable and why the impersonator was ordered to imitate the singer.

Intellectual property lawyer Purvi Albers says OpenAI’s request for Johansson’s services is vital to determining whether the company violated her publicity rights. “It’s clear that was the voice they were looking for,” he adds. “They wanted to take advantage of her raspy voice.”

The upshot: It may not matter if Johansson’s voice wasn’t used to train “Sky” as long as the goal was to capture her performance in the Spike Jonze film.

A lawsuit could have advanced the right of publicity, the right of privacy, and possibly a federal trademark claim over potential consumer confusion they believe is associated with OpenAI. A person familiar with the situation said there were “certainly references in the letter beyond the simple right of publicity.”

“Sky” may also have involved the rights to Annapurna, which produced Hisif Altman sought to replicate Johansson’s performance in the film.

In the entertainment industry, the specter of AI casts a daunting shadow. A study surveying 300 Hollywood leaders published in January reported that three-quarters of respondents indicated that AI tools supported eliminating, reducing or consolidating jobs at their companies. It is estimated that in the next three years around 204,000 jobs will be negatively affected.

Paul Skye Lehrman, who has more than a decade of experience as a broadcaster and is suing an artificial intelligence startup, said he has received about 50 percent less work since last year. He stressed that the problem is not only that he has fewer job opportunities but the “degradation of my reputation.”

“My voice literally says things I wouldn’t say with brands I wouldn’t work with in places I wouldn’t want to be placed in,” she added.