Who owns your synthetic self?

17.13, Friday 27 Nov 2020

Some glimpses…

Vtubers are virtual performers. They have their own shows on YouTube and Twitch, just like regular humans, but they’re animated avatars. One vtuber, Projekt Melody, commissioned [her body] from an artist for $5,000 and even kept the receipts as proof.


the artist, alleging that Melody owed him money, filed a copyright complaint claiming that she didn’t actually own her body – he did. Melody was banned from Twitch.

Here’s an interesting one. Hour One is a startup that produces synthetic characters for use in videos.

Only the synthetic characters are all based on real-life people. You can sign up to be a character too, if you want. I guess it’s like having all the benefits of acting in commercials, but without having to act.

There’s a page on the website called “Character protection.”

Your engagement will be governed by a synthetic talent contract that we have in place with all our characters.

Any synthetic content in which you appear will be labeled with a watermark indicating the character’s content has been synthesized.

Hour One stores your facial assets with utmost security, so that it may not be hacked.

And this fascinates me.

Could you object to your synthesised face appearing in a commercial for something hateful?

Could you drop your own sex tape online, but watermark it with a Hour One: Synthetic Character watermark to give yourself plausible deniability? Who would sue whom?

I’m interested in when you create a synthetic version of yourself for your own purposes.

  • There’s a growing market called voice banking. What is it? Voice banking is a process for creating a ‘personalised synthetic voice’ (PSV), a synthetic approximation of a person’s natural voice (Costello, 2016). If you’re about to lose your voice (surgery, illness, etc) then you “bank” your voice to use synthetically later. Here’s one voice banking provider and here’s a list of more.
  • NVIDIA’s new technology will reconstruct your face as a deepfake, transmitting just the data on video calls, and saving 90% bandwidth. Here are the details and a video.
  • Anonymizer will generate a photo that is vaguely similar to your own face (to a stranger, anyway) but different enough such that it won’t match in facial recognition systems. Debugger writes about Anonymizer here (with examples).

The thing is that synthetic media isn’t media as we know it - it’s not an image, or a sound. It’s software. Software is licensed. Although it’s based on me, it isn’t me.

Do I have a right to take my synthetic face puppet to a competing service? Can it be used in adverts, and do I have a right to limit that? If I make a ton of money out of it as a vtuber, does the software provider get a cut? Can a synthetic voice be inherited? If a voice bank is hacked and a voice used to steal money from my actual bank, who is liable?

This has already been an issue in Hollywood: And as far back as 1998, Chinese martial-arts superstar Jet Li turned down a role in The Matrix … for fear the production would try to claim digital ownership of his strikes and kicks.

“[For] six months, they wanted to record and copy all my moves into a digital library,” he told the Chinese news site Weibo in October. “By the end of the recording, the rights to these moves would go to them. I was thinking: I’ve been training my entire life. And we martial artists could only grow older. Yet they could own [my moves] as an intellectual property forever. So I said I couldn’t do that.”

So… that. For everyone, all the time.

(Thanks Matt Jones and Phil Gyford for sending some of the above links my way.)

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