back to article Scarlett Johansson sics lawyers on AI biz that cloned her for an ad

Lawyers representing Scarlett Johansson have pressured the developers of an AI avatar-generating app into taking down an advert that used the Hollywood megastar's face and voice without permission. Advances in generative AI have made it easier for people to create realistic deepfakes of public figures using widely available …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The future

    Sorry to say, but this is just going to get easier.

    How long before you can buy a "person package" complete with physical appearance, preferred motion and vocal template?

    1. theOtherJT Silver badge

      Re: The future

      Futurama called it again...

      1. b0llchit Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: The future

        Yes, (kid)Napster, where is my Monrobot?

      2. xanadu42

        Re: The future

        I think Star Trek: The Next Generation pre-dates this idea with their various Holodeck reconstructions of historical characters

        For Example: Leonardo da Vinci published November 1997:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concerning_Flight

        And even Star Trek (the original) intimates same with reconstructions of historical (all-be-it fictional) characters published in 1966:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shore_Leave_(Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series)

        Similar may have been envisioned by the likes of Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein, to name but a few of the 1950/1960's SF authors that may have done so... (pretty sure this is the case but I last read books by these authors 40+ years ago, so not sure)

  2. Howard Sway Silver badge

    The Beatles – or what remains of the band

    What remains of the band appears to be a dull plodding song, considered not even good enough for a 1978 solo album, given the "just plonk some strings on it and it'll sound like the Beatles" treatment. Still, it gives an indication of just how bad they would have sounded if they'd stayed together til then, shortly before entering their 80s synth pop phase.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: The Beatles – or what remains of the band

      Yeah, the last one (was it "Free as a Bird"?) was bad enough already. Let the man rest in peace.

      1. Ozan

        Re: The Beatles – or what remains of the band

        Sorry but there's money to make.

      2. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

        Re: The Beatles – or what remains of the band

        And that might as well have been by ELO...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beatles

    Fab!

  4. martinusher Silver badge

    An interesting twist

    Scarlet Johansson was the actor voicing the human like artificial intelligence software in the sci-fi move "Her" that was made about a decade ago. This movie was remarkably prescient about generative AI; we could probably have similar relationships with this type of cloud based system except that the MegaCorps that currently control it are a bit scared of the implications to let their models wander in that direction. (Which means that sooner or later someone, somewhere, will.)

    Anyway, its kind of wrong to use a person's likeness without their permission unless it falls under 'fair use' or that person's long deceased (and even then there's a small matter of the ethics of bringing dead people back to life).

    1. Zero Sum
      Pint

      Re: An interesting twist

      Possibly irrelevant comment.

      Re-watched "Her" (2013) recently. Great and uncomfortable film, and as you said, prescient about generative AI.

      Only just realised that Joaquin Phoenix's character was a human version of Scarlett Johansson's computer character. She was a simulacrum that had artificial (?) relationships with all who used her operating system, while the character played by Phoenix had a very similar job – he wrote love letters between people he didn't know to help them communicate (for a price). He was a human simulating human communication for people who didn't have the ability or time to do so themselves.

      Unlike Johansson's character, however, Phoenix's Theodore Twombly was unable to grow and find his place and people. (There is a similar transformation of Scarlett Johansson's in Luc Besson's "Lucy", but this is not the time to go into that.)

      And while I am here, there is also the 2002 Al Pacino film, "Simone" (S1m0ne – Simulation One) about a film director whose reputation is overshadowed by the AI movie star he created and "murdered" and all the palaver that ensues. Not a great film, but fun (Al Pacino!), and deals with similar themes to the ones we're discussing – but twenty years ago.

      For your interest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simone_(2002_film)

      or

      https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0258153/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: An interesting twist

        I found S1m0ne's plot pretty easy to predict, but precisely Pacino's performance made it a very enjoyable movie.

        His performance and other sterling acting forms the exact argument why you don't want AIs replacing actors. There is already enough cookie cutting in Hollywood.

    2. Anonymous Cowpilot

      Re: An interesting twist

      >>> Anyway, its kind of wrong to use a person's likeness without their permission unless it falls under 'fair use' or that person's long deceased (and even then there's a small matter of the ethics of bringing dead people back to life). <<<

      Bearing in mind that fair use is not a universal right. For example, the UK does not have a fair use clause for copyright - it has a much more restrictive fair dealings clause.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: An interesting twist

      "Anyway, its kind of wrong to use a person's likeness without their permission unless it falls under 'fair use' or that person's long deceased (and even then there's a small matter of the ethics of bringing dead people back to life)."

      By "long deceased" you'd have to mean >100 years. There are estates such as with Elvis Presley where copyright and moral rights are still in term and maintained. Once those copyrights expire, any descendent will be far enough removed for there not to be any chance of repetitional harm. One of the boys in my graduating class was a direct descendent of Benedict Arnold but it was much more interesting than actionable since it was many ancestors ago. From Wikipedia "He led the British army in battle against the soldiers whom he had once commanded, after which his name became synonymous with treason and betrayal in the United States."

      It could be very interesting to have AI generated historical figures come to life to reenact history to the extent that we think is accurate. I'd rather see a movie than read page after page of dry text. It also give a chance to show clothing, what cities would have looked like and how people lived. I see a lot of people that criticize people from the past without any understanding of those times. Their judgement is based on modern circumstances.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An interesting twist

      How much does something have to be a likeness to be wrong? If my natural speaking voice sounded like, say, Tom Hanks, should I be banned from doing voice-over work? If I looked like Scarlet Johansson, should I be banned from an acting career? OK, extremes (and I am nothing like either of those two "celebrities" - though it's also an assumption that the Tom Hanks and Scarlet Johansson I mention are the ones known as actors). Deliberately misrepresenting anyone is wrong but, just because somebody makes a lot of money and/or is well recognised, shouldn't automatically give them any additional rights that Tom Hanks the factory labourer or Scarlet Johansson on the supermarket checkout desk.

      Impersonating well known politicians and celebrities is bread and butter work for many entertainers - should such impressionists be banned (or charged royalties)?

  5. ChoHag Silver badge
    Pint

    How do you show the world how good this fancy actor-replacement technology has become and terminate your own career and that of all your friends at the same time?

    > We will deal with it with all legal remedies that we will have

    So does that mean we get to retire Streisand now? FYI Mr. Lawyer: I'd forgotten about the Hanks one already.

    No popcorn icon but it's Friday already.

    1. parlei

      It is rather the issue that "we" must spank the thieving AI-goblins whenever they try to get out. Would you want your image to be used for an ad, without your permission?

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Stop

        And without being paid!!!!

        I'm always reminded in this context of a Friends episode actually, where Joey does a photoshoot, but doesn't pay any attention to what the shoot is for. It turns out it's for an STD awareness campaign. And carries a slogan like "What Mario isn't telling you.". He at least got paid for it.

        Now imagine, if someone took your image and ran it for a campaign about, I don't know, "Child Sex Offenders in your Area". That's a massive reputational (and possibly life-threatening) damage to you in your community, that you had nothing to do with.

        Using AI versions of any real person without their permission is really a completely scummy act. It's not like it's hard with the actual tools available to create someone fake for use in your media campaign. But I guess fake people don't sell as well as faked celebrities...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You're a bit late there..

          I hate to tell you this, but you should start paying attention to Google and Meta terms & conditions if you're worried about this. If you have agreed to them you have already given them permission to do with your content whatever they want to, and that could include changing it to the point that it works against you. Don't believe me, start reading them properly. Don't try to do it all at once, they're designed to make sure you tune out before you get to the objectionable parts so do it a few pages at a time and give yourself time to think through the implications of what you read

          I keep telling people this, you have ALREADY signed your rights away, unless some enlightened government renders those terms illegal - at which point they'll simply go hide in other, more corruptable/bribable amenable jurisdictions and continue as if nothing happened.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "I'm always reminded in this context of a Friends episode actually, where Joey does a photoshoot, but doesn't pay any attention to what the shoot is for. It turns out it's for an STD awareness campaign. And carries a slogan like "What Mario isn't telling you.". He at least got paid for it."

          Don't get your information about model releases from a sitcom. The premise is not valid. If you sign a standard release on a photoshoot, it isn't valid for "sensitive topics". They can't use your image for addiction, health, alternative lifestyles, etc. For that, you have to sign a very specific release and under 18's can't do work for those sorts of campaigns at all. I'm unsure about political ads, but I'd bet that if a party or candidate used a well known person's image without very specific permission, they'd get sued right quick. In actuality, most of these suits are settled out of court. I heard a story about a pot store that used Sacha Baron Cohen's photo they lifted from the web on a billboard ad and they got spanked hard. Sacha stated he would never allow such usage for any money. The photographer got a big payday as well for the copyright issue on the image itself. (I'm in the US, but I'm pretty sure it's nearly the same in London, Paris, Rome and everyplace else that's considered a major commercial market.)

    2. Dinanziame Silver badge
      Headmaster

      This has nothing to do with the Streisand effect, which is about keeping something hidden or secret — It's closer to a copyright/trademark issue. There's not much difference between Scarlett Johansson going after AI copies and Louis Vuitton going after fake handbags.

      1. Brian 3

        except... how do they prove the 'likeness' IS her? the 'beatles' song is just a cleanup, but generative ai can't be copyrighted year

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          "except... how do they prove the 'likeness' IS her?"

          Courts use an "average person" test.

          They'll show the AI generated image and a real photo of the person and if an "average person" says they are the same, that's it. It could be the judge or jury that does the comparison or it could be random people on the street (un-compensated for a response either way).

          A studio trying to dodge isn't going to do well. Somebody will have said, "hey, that looks a lot like Scarlett Johansson" at some point. You can't be in the industry and NOT know what she looks like. A random citizen on the street may not. It's been a long time since I've been to the cinema. There hasn't been anything that seems worth the $25 to go see when I can wait a month and order it up for $1.99 and watch it at home with a silo of popcorn that still costs less than what they charge at the theatre. Beer too! Zombie movies, pizza and beer were made to go together.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just waiting for...

    ... an advertisement for a porn site using either AI generated Elon Musk or Donald Trump - or perhaps both?

    And of course posted on X.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Just waiting for...

      "an advertisement for a porn site using either AI generated Elon Musk or Donald Trump - or perhaps both?"

      Oh, good god! Something like that would put me off faster than a dip in a glacial lake.

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Just waiting for...

      There's already loads of ads for crypto scams using AI generated Elon Musk fakes.

  7. MachDiamond Silver badge

    What gets me..

    Is the audacity that some person thinks that just by putting a disclaimer on something like this they will be in the clear. It's like the people that will post an album on YouTube and make a comment that it isn't their property and no infringement was intended. Sorry sir, I didn't mean to knock you to the ground and take your wallet. What? A court is going to say "well that's all good then. He DID apologize."

    1. hayzoos

      Re: What gets me..

      With all due respect.....

      Your opinion sucks.

      But all is good because I prefaced it "With all due respect".

      attribution: Will Ferrell - Taledega Nights: the ballad of Ricky Bobby

  8. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    Already were muddied waters

    The use of look alike actors in advertising has a long history. I remember some years ago there was a french woman who resembled the late queen and who appeared in some advertisement which at the time caused some consternation one one side of la Manche and shrugs on the other side. ;)

    I would think the use of AI or human double or any image which is clearly and recklessly defamatory of a living person can be dealt with by existing law. Where such use is claimed to deprive that person of some benefit that can be attributed to their identity then the lawyers start raking it in.

    I suspect in the long term people will accept the images purveyed to them are unreliable in all respects.

    An advert with Trump vehemently advocating stringent gun control is not going to fool anyone other than the terminally deluded.

    For a prize winning can of worms "a small matter of the ethics of bringing dead people back to life" has to be a contender.

    "Mr C., Ethics Squad, we would like to talk to you concerning a Mr Lazarus."

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Already were muddied waters

      "I remember some years ago there was a french woman who resembled the late queen and who appeared in some advertisement which at the time caused some consternation"

      If it's what should be realized as a parody, they might get away with it. If the production makes it appear that Scarlett is endorsing something or starring in the film, the line is crossed. Not so much if an AI generated person in the background bears her likeness if you zoom in and freeze frame. I think some real fun could be had if the entire lineup of Monty Python were seated at the bar in the background of a scene in a movie. Just as an easter egg.

      The courts give a lot of leeway for impersonations of Heads of State, political figures, etc. The producers of Saturday Night Live would still be rotting in prison if that weren't the case.

  9. Ken G Silver badge

    Weird Science

    She's completely right, but that genie is out of the bottle.

    Today it's professionally produced ads from AI companies, in 2 or 3 years it'll be horny teenagers creating interactive hologram girlfriends from characters in her old films.

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