You’re in the midst of doomscrolling, when you decide to take a mental health break and post a photo to your socials from a happier (pre-pandemic) time. As you search through your photos, you find a great one of yourself that a friend-of-a-friend took. You’re about to post the photo when you remember a post that you read on this very blog about the potential copyright consequences of using a photo taken by someone else. You aren’t a celebrity—yet—but you decide that it’s best to use a photo that you took yourself. A couple of minutes later you post a throwback selfie in which you are smiling as you proudly show off your very first tattoo. It took you days to decide on the design and hours for the tattoo artist to bring to life. Even today you still get compliments on it, and some people have even recognized you solely based on the fact that you have a very big and very prominent tattoo of Pegasus riding a dragon while eating rainbow sherbet and shooting lasers from a cat. Your post starts racking up likes from your friends (and followers)—when all of the sudden you get a DM from the tattoo artist informing you that she never authorized you to display her copyrighted work on social media and demanding that you take the photo down. Unfortunately, now you’ll be spending the rest of your evening trying to figure out how any rights your tattoo artist has in works permanently inked upon your body may impact your own rights to use (and license) your own likeness.
In a recent social gathering, your friends took a number of photos and circulated it to the group. You see that one shot by a friend is a particularly great photo of you. You repost to your social media account to share with the world. It would generally be safe to assume that nothing will come of this, much less a copyright infringement lawsuit against you by your friend who took the shot. For celebrities, this is not always the case. In the past few years, there have been many lawsuits filed for copyright infringement by photographers and paparazzi against celebrities that reposted photos of themselves that they took off the internet.
No one knows your face as well as your iPhone does. All the unique variances of your face that make it yours and yours alone, these are all data points that your iPhone uses to unlock your phone using a face in place of a thumbprint. This same data that the iPhone collects can be used by the underlying tech—facial recognition technology—in a vast array of applications, from border control to photo tagging to law enforcement. But is this data (the measurement of the space between the eyes, the texture of the skin, etc.) open data? Or do individuals have a right to protection of an image of their face?
Recent developments in deep learning artificial intelligence have enabled almost anyone to superimpose facial features—including an entirely different face—into a preexisting video with relatively minimal effort. Until very recently, editing facial features in a video has been incredibly difficult. Even movie studios with access to professional video editing tools have struggled with the task as recently as in 2017, when actor Henry Cavill—portraying everyone’s favorite son of Krypton—sported a mustache he was contractually unable to remove during reshoots, leading to a widely criticized post-production digital shave. Because of the inherent difficulty in convincingly manipulating video to appear realistic, the public has widely been trusting of video’s authenticity while viewing still photos more skeptically. With recent developments in artificial intelligence, this thinking must now change.
When it comes to finding ways of making money, no corner of a capitalistic society shall go unmined. This applies to obvious goods and services but also comes into play with our very thoughts and how we express them. In the age of social media, not even the framed needlepoint proverb is safe from “disruption”: behold, the framed tweet.
“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.” Edgar Alan Poe wrote those words over a century ago, yet if he were alive today he may opt for the darker: “Believe nothing you hear and nothing you see.” Over the past decade, advances in graphics technology have provided visual effects artists the ability to create fantastical new worlds on film and to populate those worlds with people, all with an astounding amount of realism. Of particular interest in this post is the ability of this technology to create realistic digital replicas of actors that can be manipulated like puppets to deliver new cinematic performances without the need for any further input from the actor—such as when the late Peter Cushing was digitally recreated in order to reprise the character of Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.