Artificial Intelligence is Infringing on Actors’ Image, Likeness Says U.K. Performers’ Union Equity

Performing arts union Equity is launching a campaign around performers’ rights over artificial intelligence (AI).

They hope to persuade the U.K. government to introduce laws that will prevent companies using AI performance synthetisation – based on real performers’ voices and likeness – without their permission.

As the U.K. law currently stands, performers’ rights extend to being able to give consent to the making of a recording of a performance and the right to control use of the recordings and any copies.

However, AI technology falls outside the scope of these protections because it “reproduces performances without generating a ‘recording’ or a ‘copy,’” according to the union. In addition, in a survey of 430 Equity members, 79% of those who have undertaken AI work said they didn’t feel they had a “full understanding” of their rights before signing their contracts.

Meanwhile 93% of audio artists responding to the survey said they were worried AI posed a threat to employment opportunities. According to Equity, AI is increasingly being used in the audio and audio-visual sector, from audiobooks to digital avatars.

Equity’s new campaign, which is titled Stop AI Stealing the Show, is backed by actor Talulah Riley (“St Trinian’s”), politician Lord Clement-Jones, who is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence, and Canadian voiceover artist Bev Standing.

Standing won a settlement after she sued TikTok, saying the company had used her voice for their text-to-speech feature without her permission based on recordings she had provided for another company years earlier.

“In 2018, I was hired to do a text-to-speech job for a translation app,” said Standing. “But in 2020 these recordings were used for the first ever English text-to-speech voice on TikTok, who was not my client. The fear of coming up against a multibillion-dollar company was a little overwhelming but it came down to the fact that it was just wrong and I had to stand up for myself – my voice files were copyrighted and I owned them, so TikTok didn’t have permission to use them.”

“After talking to a lawyer, a complaint was filed,” she continued. “We came to a very amicable agreement with TikTok last year and they settled. As a voice actor, I feel it’s a smart business decision to understand AI and get involved in it, and I now only work with companies where I have control over where my voice gets licensed. AI is here to stay – it’s not going away.”

Equity also warned that artists providing their voice and likeness for AI work were “not being compensated fairly” or sometimes at all and that performers are often asked to sign NDAs which obscures the nature of the job.

“The explosion of artificial intelligence across the entertainment industry is a significant and growing concern for audio artists and other performers,” said Paul W Fleming, Equity’s general secretary. “We are working hard to protect our members as bosses try to increase profits by replacing skilled professionals with AI systems; but without Government action to modernise U.K. law we could see dystopian consequences for performers and permanent damage to our world leading industry. Workers everywhere need action on AI – from checkout tills to feature films, from call centres to videogames – to ensure this new technology enhances their working lives, and not just the bosses’ bottom line.”

Talulah Riley, a member of Equity, added: “Advances in AI technology are coming at us fast and it is important that those of us in the entertainment industry are aware of the possible changes to our livelihood. As a performer, it is vital that my voice and my image are my own, no matter how easily and cheaply those things can be digitally replicated. I believe that performers must be rewarded fairly for the content we create.”

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