June 7, 2024


Do personality rights stifle creativity and innovation?

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps there’s a limit to that. Especially now, when anyone can recreate other people’s, especially famous ones’, likenesses quite easily. We’re living in a time where someone’s face, voice, and mannerisms can be faked with readily available online tools.

Abroad, we had the high-profile OpenAI vs Scarlett Johansson episode. Back home, several celebrities have gone to the courts to seek protection for their personality rights. After all, celebrities make money from their image and personality. Given the legal complexities involved in this subject, can things be taken too far? Can legal protection actually hamper someone else’s free speech and creativity?


When OpenAI unveiled its voice assistant chatbot, something seemed off. Well, to some, many things seemed off, but one thing, in particular, was the voice itself. In an eerie similarity to the 2013 film Her, the voice was conversational and even described as flirty. But that wasn’t all. We soon found out that OpenAI had contacted Johansson to use her voice. After she declined, the company decided to hire a voice actress, and it still sounded quite similar.

Johansson was naturally shocked. She said she found out about the voice because her family and media thought it was her. It obviously wasn’t. OpenAI got spooked fearing legal action and decided to remove the voice assistant. Even though they used someone else, people couldn’t tell the difference.

In India, celebrities have gone to the courts to seek legal protection to safeguard their personality and publicity rights. Among the most recent was Jackie Shroff. The Delhi High Court issued an order in his favour. It did the same for Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Kapoor over the past few years.

Why is this happening? Simply put, celebrities don’t want other people to take their faces, voices, and mannerisms, and use them for profit without their consent. That’s where personality rights come in. It pertains to the rights associated with the personality of known persons and the right to derive monetary benefits from them.

Personality rights in India are still evolving. Courts derive principles from Article 19, which deals with freedom of speech and Article 21, which deals with protecting life and liberty. In the case of Anil Kapoor, the court established the protection of his personality rights for AI and deepfakes too.

The challenge is identifying those who infringe upon these rights and mandating compliance. That’s because the prevalence of new and evolved generative AI tools has given many people just enough skill to generate fake images and personas of someone.

With these legal protections, do they infringe upon someone else’s freedom to be creative?

VIEW: Personality rights should be airtight

Celebrities are ever-present across advertisements in all mediums imaginable. That’s because they’ve signed on and consented to their face and voice being used to endorse a product or service. If someone uses AI tools to mimic the image and voice of a celebrity because they can’t get their consent, then that should be a cut-and-dry case of identity theft. There has to be a line in the sand and some accountability.

When the actor’s union, SAG-AFTRA, went on strike last year in Hollywood, one of the reasons was to get movie and TV studios to promise never to use AI to imitate or alter a celebrity’s persona. No one wants to see Indiana Jones starring Harrison Ford when it’s not actually him. Another issue is ownership. When AI is used to copy a performer and their mannerisms, courts in India have barred organisations from doing so.

While we’ve talked about celebrities, all this applies to everyone else. That’s where things like deepfakes come in. People can take photos off social media platforms and use them for nefarious purposes, like making explicit content. There’s no reasonable argument to be made here for consent, including implicit consent, just because someone posted a photo on a social media platform.

COUNTERVIEW: It gets tricky

The positions that celebrities have taken have some complications. An actor’s image isn’t self-generated. It’s the result of a collaboration. Celebrities are household names because of the movies they star in. Movies are a collaboration of different artists from different disciplines. Even concerning iconic and quotable lines, they weren’t written by the individual stars. The question is, where does one’s right begin and stop for another’s?

There’s an understandable argument to be made that someone has the right to decide how their personality will be used. For example, using it without permission is a clear violation. However, does that right extend to blocking people from using a GIF of a scene? If someone has decided to earn a living by becoming an actor, it’s reasonable to say they’ve decided to subject themselves to public scrutiny. Anyone has the right to parody a movie, a scene, or an actor. That’s free speech and expression in action.

While a public personality should be protected from explicit, defamatory, and illegal content, that shouldn’t apply to someone mimicking an actor if it’s just to show their affection and enhance their persona. Intellectual Property (IP) rights haven’t evolved to the AI era we’re now in. That needs to change since IP rights are often used to stifle creativity.

Reference Links:

  • AI in conflict with personality rights in India – Managing IP
  • Guardians of Stardoms: Navigating the Complex Terrain of Personality Rights – The IP Press
  • Why Celebrities Are Seeking Legal Protection For Their Personality Rights – NDTV
  • Why OpenAI should fear a Scarlett Johansson lawsuit – CNN
  • Can The Law Prevent AI From Duplicating Actors? It’s Complicated – Forbes
  • As movie stars go to court to protect their ‘personality rights’, are they stifling creativity? – Scroll

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Personality rights don’t stifle creativity and innovation.

b) Personality rights stifle creativity and innovation.


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