Artificial Intelligence (AI) program Dudesy was used by podcast hosts Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen to generate an hour-long special featuring historic stand-up comedian George Carlin without the consent of his still living family members, premiering on YouTube on Jan. 9 and receiving mixed reactions from the public.
George Carlin was a highly-acclaimed actor, writer and comedian best known for his “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television” routine which led the Supreme Court to give the Federal Communications Committee the power to censor radio and TV broadcasts. Widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in his field of all time by those who align with his quick-witted humor on subjects ranging from black history to the English language, the creators of Dudesy found it financially viable to piggyback off Carlin’s legacy to earn some recognition of their own.
However, what seemed like such a brilliant plan ended up backfiring (for good reason) after critics deemed the AI-generated rendition of Carlin completely void of humor and quite insulting to the former star’s legacy. Although that fact is sad in and of itself, the more glaring issue is that Sasso and Kultgen failed to gain the consent of Carlin’s family to produce the content, which exposes the Dudesy creators to the possibility of finding themselves in some hefty legal trouble since they never officially had the right to use Carlin’s Intellectual Property (IP).
According to AI voice over generator site Speechify, consent plays a crucial factor in ensuring the ethical usage of someone’s voice.
“Yes, using someone’s voice without permission, especially for commercial purposes, can lead to lawsuits for copyright infringement or violation of publicity rights,” the site states.
Celebrities are protected by IP laws and their rights of publicity, which encompasses their voices and likenesses. In this case, since California-native George Carlin himself is not with us today, his IP rights have been inherited by his daughter, Kelly Carlin, and his late talent manager Jerry Hamza, as per state laws.
In a statement publicly posted on the platform X formerly known as Twitter, Kelly Carlin wrote, “My dad spent a lifetime perfecting his craft from his very human life, brain and imagination. No machine will ever replace his genius.” She voiced the offense she took toward the creators of Dudesy in a string of tweets, even warning others like her to be on the lookout for a similar incident that may happen in the future.
Adding on to the public’s outrage, Carlin’s daughter comments on AI’s inability to ever perfectly replicate, or add to, a human’s work. “AI has no play instinct. It’s a dead machine stealing others’ lives to create something new,” she asserted.
But, this is not the first time that the usage of AI has sparked controversy. As AI is still a new development, those in power have been slow to adapt to the change. Driven by the competition amongst private enterprises, AI only continues to get more advanced with each passing day, and governing bodies have been struggling to keep up.
The most alarming fact of all is that this means that computer scientists, others in the technology industry, and even the average person can continue to abuse AI as long as laws clearly outlining the terms and conditions for its usage are not implemented. Although the White House released a Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights back in 2022 to establish guidelines across industrial sectors which addresses issues like data breaches and algorithm discrimination, the document does not address anything related to AI-induced copyright issues since its aim was to protect people from companies, not people from other people. Seeing as record labels are now grasping at straws to get work featuring the unpermitted usage of their artists’ voices taken down, it is clear that restrictions need to be placed on AI access and usage sooner or later before worse problems arise.
However, this is not to say that not enough is being done: although the federal government does not register works it deems “solely created by AI” making it harder for people to make copyright claims on works without human contribution, state governments are starting to implement laws of their own to offer people more protection. Laws vary from state to state, and people receive more or less protection from the weaponization of AI depending on where they are located in.
All in all, with the emergence of easily accessible Artificial Intelligence (AI) resources on the World Wide Web ranging from ChatGPT to Voicify, it seems like the public has the freedom to rely on the newly-developed technology to benefit themselves however and whenever they see fit. At this rate, people’s increasing over reliance on them will continue to blur the lines between man and machine. However, as long as guidelines are set to better protect individuals and their IP, AI’s revolutionary role in the heart of the Information Age can certainly make a positive difference without harming the innocent: with the ability to aid people in completing time-consuming and even previously impossible tasks like generating research papers from scratch and analyzing data in a matter of seconds, it is indisputable that its emergence was for the sole purpose of revolutionizing the human experience.