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Potential Courtroom Battle: Scarlett Johansson vs. OpenAI

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In Short:

Legal experts are divided on whether OpenAI’s imitation of Scarlett Johansson’s voice in its chatbot, known as Sky, could lead to a right-of-publicity lawsuit. Some believe the superficial similarity may not hold up in court, while others think OpenAI’s actions were intentional and could result in legal consequences. The controversy has sparked discussions on the complexities of right-of-publicity laws in the United States.


Legal Experts Analyze OpenAI’s Actions

In the opinion of legal expert Rothman, what matters is whether an audio confuses listeners, not if a person’s actual voice is used in an imitation. She emphasizes the distinction between imitation and simply recording something “in the style” of someone else, stating that no one owns a style.

On the other hand, Colorado law professor Harry Surden believes that any potential ‘right of publicity’ claim from Scarlett Johansson against OpenAI would be weak due to the superficial similarity between the ‘Sky’ actress’ voice and Johansson. Similarly, Frye expresses doubts, stating that OpenAI presented a simulation of Scarlett Johansson, not the real actress, which may not necessarily lead to a right-of-publicity problem.

Juries and Right of Publicity Laws

However, Surden points out that the unpredictability of juries could pose a challenge for OpenAI. Frye also mentions that ‘right of publicity’ is an esoteric area of law, with a patchwork of state statutes in the US. He notes that California, with robust right-of-publicity laws, could be a potential jurisdiction for Johansson’s lawsuit.

Potential Weaknesses for OpenAI

Although OpenAI may face challenges in defending a right-of-publicity suit, a post by Sam Altman on X referring to “her” and comparisons to the movie “Her” could potentially weaken any defense. The intentional references to Sky and Samantha could also complicate OpenAI’s position, according to legal expert Grimmelmann.

Expert Opinions on OpenAI’s Actions

David Herlihy, a copyright lawyer, considers OpenAI’s actions a “boneheaded move” and a miscalculation. Some lawyers even speculate that the entire scandal could be a deliberate stunt by OpenAI to generate publicity, as suggested by Purvi Patel Albers, a partner at the law firm Haynes Boone.

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