New backend document shows OpenAI did not deliberately copy Scarlett Johansson’s voice for AI - Hindustan Times
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New backend document shows OpenAI did not deliberately copy Scarlett Johansson’s voice for AI

May 23, 2024 02:31 PM IST

OpenAI’s internal documents reveal no intentional mimicry of Scarlett Johansson’s voice for ChatGPT’s “Sky” avatar, despite her concerns.

After Scarlett Johansson raised concerns about OpenAI allegedly copying her voice for ChatGPT’s “Sky” avatar, internal documents shared with The Washington Post suggest that the AI giant did not intentionally mimic the actor’s voice.

OpenAI chief Sam Altman publicly apologized May 21, 2024 to Scarlett Johansson after the movie star said she was "shocked" by a new synthetic voice released by the ChatGPT-maker that sounds "eerily similar" to her. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)(AFP)
OpenAI chief Sam Altman publicly apologized May 21, 2024 to Scarlett Johansson after the movie star said she was "shocked" by a new synthetic voice released by the ChatGPT-maker that sounds "eerily similar" to her. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)(AFP)

According to these documents, a different actress was hired to voice ChatGPT Sky months before OpenAI CEO Sam Altman approached Johansson about being one of the voices for ChatGPT.

Interviews with multiple individuals involved in creating Sky's voice confirmed that the company did not specifically seek someone with a voice similar to Johansson’s.

The documents provided information about the process of choosing Sky’s voice, the actress who was employed through a casting session, and other factors in consideration.

The casting call sought a non-union actor between the ages of 25 and 45, possessing a “warm, engaging, and charismatic” voice.

There was no mention of Johansson or the movie “Her,” in which Johansson voiced an AI during the selection process.

ALSO READ| In OpenAI’s ‘her’ story, a crisis and a warning

Scarlett Johansson's options in potential OpenAI lawsuit

The agent representing the actress who voiced ChatGPT’s Sky confirmed to The Washington Post that neither Scarlett Johansson nor the film ‘Her’ were referenced by OpenAI throughout the hiring process. This further supports OpenAI’s stance that any resemblance to Johansson’s voice was coincidental and not deliberate.

Despite these explanations, legal experts suggest that Johansson might still have grounds for a lawsuit against OpenAI. The resemblance of the Sky voice to Johansson's and the timing of Altman’s approach, which occurred just days before the voice's release, could bolster her case. Altman’s public reference to the voice as ‘Her’ adds another layer of complexity, potentially implying that the voice was modelled after Johansson’s AI character from the Joaquin Phoenix movie.

“The Ninth Circuit held that a celebrity with a distinctive voice could recover against someone who used a voice impersonator to create the impression that the celebrity had endorsed the product or was speaking in the advertisement,” Christian Mammen, a partner at Womble Bond Dickinson told The Verge.

ALSO READ| Scarlett Johansson vs OpenAI: Actor says ChatGPT voice is 'eerily similar' to hers. 5 points to know about controversy

He also mentioned prominent personalities such as Bette Midler and Tom Waits, whose voices were used to create commercial jingles without the artists' permission.

Even in this case, the outcome of any likely litigation that may result from it would also depend on the state where it was launched. In the United States, right-to-publicity laws are especially different in each state.

For instance, no specific law prohibits a company in California, where OpenAI is located, from creating digital or AI voice replicas. However, it should be noted that California does demand consent for the utilization of a person’s voice for commercial purposes.

As of now, Scarlett Johansson has not taken any legal action against OpenAI.

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