The Impact of AI Scandals on SAG-AFTRA and the Call for Legislation

The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) recently addressed two AI scandals that have been making headlines. The first involves explicit AI deepfakes of musician Taylor Swift circulating on X and the wider internet. The second is a comedy special YouTube video impersonating the late comedian George Carlin, which was marketed as AI-generated but was revealed to be human-written. These incidents have prompted SAG-AFTRA to reinforce its stance on AI and advocate for legislation to protect individuals’ voices and likenesses.

SAG-AFTRA has been skeptical of AI since its strike, which eventually led to an agreement with studios to allow human actors to control their own AI likenesses in film and TV productions. While it is unclear if Taylor Swift is a SAG-AFTRA member, she has acted before and is rumored to be in the upcoming Deadpool 3. In recent weeks, X accounts and websites, such as Celeb Jihad, posted deepfaked images of Swift engaged in explicit scenes involving fans of her boyfriend’s NFL team. X was slow to remove these images, but eventually took them down and blocked searches of Swift’s name.

On the other hand, George Carlin became the subject of a controversial comedy special titled “George Carlin: I am Glad I’m Dead.” The video, created by the “Dudesy” comedy AI program, received criticism online and led to a copyright infringement lawsuit from Carlin’s daughter. The video was taken offline after the lawsuit was filed.

“The development and dissemination of fake images — especially those of a lewd nature — without someone’s consent must be made illegal. As a society, we have it in our power to control these technologies, but we must act now before it is too late,” SAG-AFTRA stated.

Initially, some speculated that these incidents were part of an elaborate AI program to satirize the hype and fears surrounding the technology. However, representatives for the creators confirmed that both the Taylor Swift deepfakes and the Carlin video were human-created. Nonetheless, SAG-AFTRA released a statement expressing concern about the AI-generated Swift deepfakes and the impact on individuals’ privacy.

Legislation to Protect Voices and Likenesses

SAG-AFTRA is actively supporting legislation, such as the Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle. This act aims to prevent the exploitation of individuals’ voices and likenesses through non-consensual deepfakes. SAG-AFTRA believes that companies or individuals profiting from replication of individuals’ creative work are infringing upon intellectual property rights and devaluing human artistry.

SAG-AFTRA’s legal team has been working with lawmakers to advocate for immediate action to pass legislation that safeguards the voices and likenesses of both living and deceased performers. Families should not have to witness their loved ones being exploited for profit. The Carlin family is pursuing legal action against those using the comedian’s work without consent or compensation.

“We support the Carlin family, who are pursuing legal action against those using the comic’s work without seeking consent or offering compensation. It’s not just SAG-AFTRA calling for laws to change in the wake of the rapid spread of AI imagery; the White House has also expressed concern,” SAG-AFTRA stated.

The White House spokesperson acknowledged the alarming circulation of false AI-generated images, emphasizing the need for social media companies to enforce their own rules to prevent the spread of misinformation and non-consensual intimate imagery. Congress has also been urged to take legislative action, which could involve labeling all AI-generated images and making non-consensual deepfakes a federal crime.

Republican Congressman Tom Keane of New Jersey has introduced a bill that calls for labeling AI-generated images, while Democratic Congressman Joseph Morelle of New York partnered with him on the Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act. These bills are currently awaiting voting through committee and onto the full House, with a Senate version being introduced. There is a growing public demand for lawmakers to act swiftly in response to this issue.

Ultimately, the big questions remain: will lawmakers take action, when will it happen, and what form will the legislation take?

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