Celebrities like Messi are all for AI deepfakes. But why are they signing their image rights away?
AI-generated deepfakes have proven to be a nuisance for people susceptible to scams. And if the first episode of Black Mirror season 6 is anything to go by, they are an even bigger issue for celebrities. All of this is coming at a time when Hollywood is seeing the biggest strike involving actors and writers in decades, all over studios wanting to replace them with generative AI bots, or deepfake AI
And yet, several prominent celebrities have not only embraced AI-based deepfakes but are actually actively signing deals with brands, practically giving away their image rights to corporations, who can then use the image and likeness of these celebrities, in whatever way they deem fit. The celebrities will have no say on how these images are being used, whatsoever.
Celebrities embracing AI
The biggest example of this would be Argentinian footballer, and global star, Lionel Messi. In an agreement with PepsiCo, renowned soccer player Lionel Messi granted permission for the use of a digitally manipulated version of himself, known as a deepfake, to promote Lay’s potato chips.
Through this arrangement, individuals on the internet can generate customized video messages featuring the simulated presence of “Lionel Messi,” and they have the option to hear the messages spoken in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or Turkish.
Other prominent figures in the world of soccer, such as David Beckham, and renowned actor Bruce Willis, have also experimented with deepfake technology. However, they have not yet gone as far as relinquishing their complete image rights, although they are likely to sell away their rights to the highest bidder.
Deepfakes to become normal
“I think deepfakes will just become part of normal practice in the advertising industry over the next few years,” says Dr Kirk Plangger, a marketing expert at King’s College London.
“It opens the door to all kinds of creative options. They’re able to micro-target consumers and are often extremely persuasive.” The efficiency of the process also makes it attractive from a commercial point of view.
The process involved in creating this digital likeness is relatively straightforward. The talent usually spends a few hours in front of a green screen, capturing her facial expressions and movements, followed by a couple more hours in a recording studio to record her voice.
Subsequently, an AI program synchronizes the captured images with the recorded audio, resulting in the creation of a digital alter-ego capable of conveying virtually any message. The outcomes are remarkably lifelike and convincing.
According to Dr Plangger, a prominent advertising analyst, the advertising industry must acknowledge and address both the potential and risks associated with artificial intelligence. He emphasizes the need for society to step back and consider the appropriate and ethical utilization of this technology.
One concern raised by Dr Plangger is the emerging “crisis of trust” wherein consumers struggle to distinguish between what is genuine and what is fabricated. This issue is already being exploited by various interests online, leading to problems such as the creation of synthetically manipulated pornography, the spread of misinformation, and the manipulation of political messages.
Legal issues abound
In addition to societal risks, there are practical implications for individuals who willingly participate in deepfake technology. Currently, there is a lack of clear laws and regulations governing the protection of one’s image in relation to AI.
For instance, if a brand uses a digital avatar to endorse a product that may harm the individual’s reputation, or if the created alter-ego makes an inappropriate joke, questions arise regarding ownership of intellectual property and avenues for legal recourse.
The reality is that existing laws do not offer a comprehensive regulatory framework to address these concerns. This gap may serve as the final obstacle preventing advertisers from fully embracing the acquisition of rights to digital versions of notable figures, such as Hollywood A-listers.
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