Scarlett Johansson’s Image Rights: Challenging AI’s Unauthorized Use

Scarlett Johansson, a Hollywood celebrity known for her role in the Marvel franchise, has sued an AI app developer for using her likeness in an ad she neither sponsored nor had anything to do with.

The online ad featured an AI-generated version of Johansson without her permission and advertised on X (formally known as Twitter). The ad was created by the app Lisa AI: Yearbook & Avatar. Allegedly, the company used AI mixed with actual footage of Johansson from another ad campaign she did with a fundraising company that partnered with Marvel Studios.

The ad started showing up last weekend on X with text under it stating “Images produced by Lisa AI. It has nothing to do with this person.” The company promotes itself as allowing users to create “fantastic” artwork with AI. As of Wednesday, the ad has been removed from X.

Scarlett Johansson interviewed with Variety and confirmed that she is not a spokesperson for Lisa AI and that her attorney has taken legal action against the company for using her likeness without her permission. Her attorney, Kevin Yorn stated, “We do not take these things lightly…we will deal with it with all legal remedies that we will have.”

What’s in the ad?

Variety, who reviewed the video, stated that the ad opened with a behind-the-scenes shot of Johansson as Black Widow from the Marvel film set. She looks at the camera and says “What’s up guys? It’s Scarlett and I want you to come with me…” Then the screen transitions to AI-generated photos resembling her likeness. In the background, a voiceover imitating Johansson’s voice goes on to promote the app telling users they can “create images with texts and AI videos.” The ad ends with a voice that sounds like Johansson saying “I think you shouldn’t miss it.”

Even though the ad states that the images produced had nothing to do with Johansson, the company not only used actual ad footage not created by them, but they also used Johansson’s likeness without her consent.

Similar Celebrity AI Controversies

This isn’t the first time an actor has spoken out against the use of their name and likeness being used by AI without permission. In October, Tom Hanks took to social media to tell his fans that an AI-generated dentist advertisement had nothing to do with him, and he did not consent to the promotional video.

Also in October, the daughter of late actor Robin Williams, Zelda Williams, came across AI recreations of her father who died back in 2014. She stated that the recreations were “personally disturbing.” Her comments highlight the current SAG-AFTRA strike against AMPTP in Hollywood, where AI recreations are a mandatory subject of bargaining.

“Agreements around AI remain elusive and frustrating to both sides of the table. Management believes the union is focused on too many ‘what if’ scenarios involving fast-changing generative AI technology, while actors maintain that AI is the existential threat to their livelihoods that has fueled much of the strike.”

SAG-AFRTRA wants to protect actors and writers from AI systems being trained to regenerate their likeness without consent. Williams stated that for years she has witnessed “how many people want to train these [AI] models to create/recreate actors who cannot consent, like Dad.”

Legal Ramifications

Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit and others like it highlight privacy concerns and the need for new regulations to protect people from the unauthorized use of their likeness for advertising purposes without their consent. Some states, like California, have strict privacy laws, but in the AI era, new guidance is needed to balance privacy and copyright protections against technological advancements in AI.

The crux of the argument involves how AI models are trained. Large quantities of data are fed into LLMs (Large language models) to teach the AI program to output language that sounds more human. This runs up against copyright infringement when AI models reproduce recreated works by artists calling them original, without giving credit to the original producer. Actors and writers are rightly worried that studios could implement AI to cut costs by generating new content without the actual writer or actor’s input or consent.

Not all actors are against the use of AI –when it’s done with their permission. For example, in an upcoming Indiana Jones film, Harrison Ford worked with Disney to create AI-generated footage of him appearing forty years younger. According to Reuters, he stated “It’s fantastic” and raved about his younger on-screen appearance in an interview with Stephen Colbert. What makes this scenario different, however, is that the AI was created with the actor’s permission, and he was compensated for the work.

Want More?

As the race for AI technology continues among tech companies, similar cases to Scarlett Johansson’s will continue to pop up. Most of the time, these kinds of legal disputes get settled with cease and desist letters, but some are making their way to the courts.

Interested in AI and its impact on Hollywood? Curious about how technology is changing copyright and intellectual property law? Check out Trellis! There you can search through cases with similar legal issues. Trellis provides real-time updates on cases being litigated so you can keep track of current trials surrounding AI and its impact on both the legal field and the entertainment industry.