Currently the law does not stop the work of performers and others from being copied by new AI technology which can create imitations of people. 

Legal reforms needed to protect people from “deepfake” and AI intellectual property theft, expert warns

Legal reforms are needed to protect people from their image being copied by “deepfake” or AI technology, an expert has warned.

Changes to the law to safeguard everyone, but particularly actors, singers, dancers and public figures like politicians, would make the UK as a global leader in the protection of performers’ rights.

Currently the law does not stop the work of performers and others from being copied by new AI technology which can create imitations of people. This has the potential to be as disruptive to the creative industries as the introduction of sound and film recordings a century ago.

Intellectual property legislation in the UK only covers the recording of a performance, and the copy of that recording, not unauthorized reproductions of a performance. This means performers and others can’t stop anyone who tries to fake them speaking or singing. Without the legal recognition of these rights, performers are also unable to form contracts to authorise the synthetisation of their performance or likeness, for example on an app or video game. This could stop performers and others from harnessing the positive aspects of AI technology.

Dr Mathilde Pavis, from the University of Exeter, has warned without reforms the creative economy is ill-equipped to adapt to the changes brought by AI systems to their industry. She is calling on lawmakers to amend existing intellectual property legislation so it also covers reproduction of performances.

Dr Pavis said: “The impact of AI systems on the economic and moral interests of performers and others invested in the making of performances is comparable to the impact of sound recording and film technologies introduced at the beginning of the 20th century. That led to the introduction of performers having legal rights. AI is so fundamentally different that it warrants a similar, tough, response.

“The growth of AI means it is critically important to review and augment performers’ rights. Current legislation does not protect them – or indeed anyone who is videoed speaking - against the unauthorized reproduction of performances produced by AI-made performance synthetisation. This gap in protection must be closed to protect their economic and moral interests.”

Dr Pavis has submitted a response to the UK Intellectual Property Office’s consultation on AI, which says any changes need to cover the implications on intellectual property. Changes would support innovation, as well as protecting people’s work and performers’ rights.

Dr Pavis recommends the UK IPO can close the gap by amending the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to introduce a right to control the reproduction of a performance. This would be distinct from the right to control the fixation of a performance in a recording, from the right to control the reproduction of such recording, and from the rights to control the commercial exploitation of such recordings – those already in law.

In her submission Dr Pavis suggests performers should have the right to control the reproduction of their performances.

Dr Pavis said: “AI technologies have made high-quality performance synthetisation more available and versatile in its application than ever. AI systems bring opportunities for innovation and disruption in the production and distribution of performances, but they will also inevitably have an impact on the economic and moral interests of performers and others involved in the arts such as producers or beneficiaries of recording contracts.”

Date: 18 December 2020

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