April 18, 2024

How AI is bringing movie stars back from the dead

New York it has the most comprehensive definition of a “right of publicity” that protects deceased persons from the commercial exploitation or unauthorized use of their personal characteristics. But even in states with similar strict regulations in place, the right of publicity protects the deceased’s estate, not necessarily the dead person.

“If your family wants to sell you out when you’re dead, there’s not much you can do,” says New York-based Pou-I attorney Pou-I “Bonnie” Lee. co-authored the Landslide law section by Kahn. This means that Marilyn Monroe, for example, could appear in a pornographic film after her death – legally – if her estate consented to the use of her image and likeness in this way. “If the estate is saying they want this, it’s unfortunate, but I think it could happen,” says Lee.

Personal use and private individuals

Although famous people are dead some obscure defenses in specific jurisdictions regarding the commercial exploitation of their image and likeness, ordinary citizens may have much less control over how their likeness and posthumous digital legacy is used. In the United States, there is little legislation protecting the dead from digital resurrection for personal use. When you die, almost anyone can upload your public digital legacy into AI software to create a deadbot or interactive AI avatar. States with more extensive post-death protections, like New York, prohibit the use of individuals’ identities for certain nefarious purposes, but Lee is skeptical of how those protections are enacted. “Ultimately someone has to enforce it,” she says.

Cloyd, Friedlander and Kahn all agree that legislation needs to be put in place sooner rather than later to protect the rights and legacies of the dead – famous and otherwise. Technology is advancing rapidly, and ethical debates regarding digital representations of the dead are already emerging. Cloyd admits to being “a bit worried” at first about how the dead are being digitally reanimated but says he is confident that WXR is being proactive and sensitive in dealing with these issues.

Friedlander, too, is actively supporting legislation that protects voice actors from losing work, and hopes that Nava’s work will help actors’ associations around the world organize and advocate for fair opportunities.

As for Winslow, he admits to having mixed feelings about seeing his cousin digitally resurrected. “I don’t know what to think about it,” he says. “I want him to be respected. He was very involved in acting, he took it very seriously. I want the same image to be projected.”

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