‘Jhakaas’ verdict is a legal win for ‘personality rights’ of stars
In Hollywood, the WAG has been on strike for over a hundred days demanding better working conditions and seeking protection against AI-fuelled job cuts
MUMBAI: If the fightback against the dangers of Artificial intelligence and its incursion into the creative field has caught momentum in the West, it has started in India too led, in the main, by two of its most famous film stars—Amitabh Bachchan and Anil Kapoor.
In Hollywood, the Writers’ Guild of America (WAG) has been on strike for over a hundred days demanding better working conditions and seeking protection against AI-fuelled job cuts, and bestselling authors like John Grisham, George Saunders among others, have sued Open AI which is using their copyrighted works to train language models.
On the same day, the Delhi High Court passed an interim order protecting the ‘personality rights’ of veteran film star, Anil Kapoor. The order restrains social media channels, e-commerce sites and others from using his name -- the acronym AK -- his voice, image and referencing his iconic characters such as Lakhan, Mr India, Majnu bhai, Nayak, and the oft-used word ‘jhakaas’ with his photo without his consent for commercial use. Kapoor has also sought protection from use of any technology including AI, deepfakes, GIFs, etc.
Kapoor’s act comes on the back of a similar court order sought by superstar Amitabh Bachchan in November last year, which restrained defendants from using his name, image, voice, or any of his characteristics without his permission.
Last month, HT had reported about the country’s top 100 voiceover artistes meeting in Mumbai to discuss how to protect themselves against AI-generated voices taking over their livelihood. Their unanimous concern was that as technology improves, AI, already being used for audio books and IVR, will be used to dub voices as well.
“It is high time actors started protecting themselves and their personality traits from misuse,’’ said actor Anil Kapoor. He underscored how he had worked hard for four decades to develop a distinctive style. “I started from scratch and gave every character a new dimension and an edge to make them distinguishable. I see no reason to allow someone to mimic my screen characters or use catch phrases that have been synonymous with me, for commercial gain without my permission.”
Kapoor confessed that he had been inspired by Amitabh Bachchan. The two stars, Kapoor revealed, shared the same lawyer to make their case in Delhi High Court.
“I have done this to protect myself for the future; we are not out to put people behind bars,” said Kapoor, adding that “actors in this part of the world were earlier naïve and trusting”.
“We did not know how to protect our interests earlier. However, after ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and my OTT series ‘24’, I realized that a lot went into safeguarding an actor’s image and career,” he said. “With the advent of AI and so much else at play, not only I but even other actors with distinctive personality traits need to be protect themselves.’’
The film industry has received the court’s verdict with a mix of joy and trepidation. While producer N R Pachisia said, “this was long overdue”, yet others, who did not want to be named, said it was too early to rejoice because it may infringe on their own creative rights, especially for those creating spoofs or comedies.
Screen-writer Aamil Keeyan Khan who wrote ‘Drishyam 2’ argued that the celebrity of certain stars has grown over the years thanks to their fans, comedians and voice artistes imitating their style, dialogue delivery and mannerisms. “They have collectively made them a part of India’s pop culture. However, winds of change are blowing and with the evolution of AI and emergence of other media platforms, the fear is anyone’s voice or face can be faked to convey any message or promote any product. It is a step in the right direction,” he said.
“For all you know before long there may even be a law to protect the stars ‘trademark’ gestures,’’ said Bollywood analyst Komal Nahta. More and more stars, he predicts will make their way to the courts. In its observations on Wednesday, the court said, there were images presented by Kapoor’s counsel even of other celebrities “which is totally offensive to their personalities.”
Advocate Ameet Naik who had argued the case for Bachchan and Kapoor told HT, that the favourable judgements won by the two stars may not necessarily lead to a flood of similar petitions because both Bachchan and Kapoor were stars with special attributes and persona which needed to be protected “Though there is no statutory law on this, they are protected under the common law,’’ he said.