AI 'resurrection' of dead stars raises ethical, legal concerns

2024-04-16 08:40:35China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Families express anger over use of new technology, questions posed on infringement of rights

While some fans are excited by artificial intelligence bringing their dead idols back to "life", the families of the late stars have expressed anger about its use, and questions have been raised about breaches of legal rights.

In recent weeks, AI-generated videos of deceased celebrities, including Hong Kong-born diva Coco Lee and mainland actor Qiao Renliang, have gone viral on social media platforms, arousing huge public interest and generating heated debate on the legal boundaries of using AI technology.

Some of the videos open with greetings from the stars, such as: "Hello everyone, I'm Kimi, Qiao Renliang, and I haven't really left." Others feature well-wishes from celebrities, such as an AI-generated Lee declaring, "This is a time full of love and thanks, and I hope you all are well."

Some internet users have commented that the AI "resurrection" of the dead icons is a memorial for them. However, many of the deceased celebrities' families said the videos, produced without their consent, have made them feel uncomfortable and brought them further grief.

A number of unscrupulous operators have also used the technology to "revive" celebrities for profit. For instance, an AI-generated video of a late star lasting 30 seconds to 1 minute sells for 80 to 600 yuan ($11 to $83) online, according to a report.

"Applying AI to commemorate dead people, including celebrities, requires permission from their families otherwise it's an infringement," said Zheng Ning, head of the Law Department at the Communication University of China's Cultural Industries Management School.

After obtaining the consent of the families, video producers also need to pay attention to the generated content. "If the generated image deviates too much from the actual person, or distorts to the image of the deceased, it may be suspected of violating the dead person's rights to portrait and reputation," she added.

Profiting from bringing dead stars back to life through AI is definitely an infringement, said Zhao Zhanling, a Beijing lawyer, who added that the families of the deceased have the right to ask online platforms to eliminate or block links to the AI-generated videos.

"If the internet service providers fail to do so, they will bear liability as well as those uploading the videos, in line with the Civil Code," he added.

Secondary damage

A recent search for information related to AI-cloned celebrities, found more than 50 topics on the Sina Weibo platform with many of them viewed millions of times.

One topic tagged "Qiao's father", which calls for ripping off the "mask of hypocrisy in the AI resurrection of celebrities", had been read more than 240 million times by the end of March.

Qiao Kangqiang, the father of Qiao Renliang who committed suicide in 2016, expressed his unhappiness with the AI-generated videos, saying he could not accept them and felt uncomfortable watching the AI depiction of his son.

"The videos were made without our knowledge and consent. It's like rubbing salt on our wounds," he told Chinese media outlets, adding that the content should be taken down by the platforms.

Lee's family also posted a statement through their lawyer in late March, requiring the internet platforms and the video makers remove AI-generated content about the late singer within seven days.

The widespread dissemination of such videos has seriously disrupted the work and life of Lee's family, and has also caused significant mental stress and damage to Lee's mother who is already upset by her daughter's death, the statement said.

A lawyer hired by the family stressed that cyberspace is not beyond the reach of the law, and in the statement called on netizens to respect other people's legitimate rights and follow legal boundaries relating to the internet.

The lawyer said Lee's fans should support their idol in a sensible manner, adding that respecting and protecting the deceased's family is the best way to honor them.

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