Greg Marston, a British voice actor with more than 20 years of experience, recently came across his own voice being used for an online demo.
Marstons was one of several entries on the Revoicer website, which offers an AI tool that converts text to speech in 40 languages, with different intonations, moods and styles.
Since he didn’t remember agreeing to have his voice cloned using artificial intelligence, he got in touch with the company. Revoicer told him they had bought his voice from IBM.
In 2005, Marston had signed a contract with IBM for work he recorded for a satellite navigation system. In the industry-standard 18-year contract, Marston had signed his voice rights in perpetuity, in a time before generative AI even existed. Now, IBM is allowed to sell her voice to third parties who could clone it using artificial intelligence and sell it for any commercial purpose. IBM said it was aware of the concern raised by Mr. Marston and was discussing it directly with him.
[Marston] he’s working in the same market, still selling his voice for a living and now competing with himself, said Mathilde Pavis, the artist’s lawyer who specializes in digital cloning technologies. He had signed a document but there was no agreement to be cloned by unforeseen technology 20 years later.
Thousands of other voice actors and performance artists face the same dilemma as Marston as companies scramble to commercialize generative AI AI systems that can rapidly produce human-like text, images, and content.
Over the past year, text-to-speech technology has become more accurate, widely available, and easier to manufacture, leading to new business models around AI cloning. Artists whose work relies on their voices and faces are seeing their livelihoods threatened by potentially exploitative contracts, data scraping methods and alleged scams, resulting in the rapid erosion of their work and rights.
Pavis said it has received at least 45 AI-related inquiries since January, including cases of actors hearing their voices about phone scams such as fake insurance calls or AI-generated ads. Equity, the trade union for the UK’s performing arts and entertainment industry, is working with Pavis and says it too has received several complaints about scams and AI exploitation over the past six months.
We’re seeing more and more members use their voice, image and likeness to create entirely new performances using AI technology, with or without consent, said Liam Budd, new media industry officer at Equity. There is no protection if you are part of a dataset of thousands or millions of people whose voices or likenesses have been scraped by AI developers.
Laurence Bouvard, a London voice actor for audio books, commercials and radio dramas, has also encountered several instances of exploitative behaviour. He recently received Facebook alerts about fake castings, where AI websites ask actors to read nonsense recipes or lines that are really just vehicles to scrape their own voice data for AI models.
Some advertise regular voice jobs but put AI synthesis clauses in contracts, while others are upfront but offer a pittance in exchange for permanent rights to the actors’ voices. A recent job posting on creative job marketplace Mandy.com, for example, detailed a half-day gig recording a five-minute script on video for AI presenters at tech company D-ID.
This technology has already been used to help companies like Microsoft with their training videos, the recruitment announcement says. The dialogue is censored, so the technology can’t be used to say anything explicit or offensive, he added.
In exchange for the image and likeness of the actors, the company offered people a flat rate of $600. D-ID said they paid fair market prices. He added that the particular ad has been withdrawn and does not reflect the final payment.
Keep in mind that, without training data, AI wouldn’t exist, Bouvard said at an event recently hosted by the Trades Union Congress in Westminster. Yet, without asking permission or providing adequate compensation… AI companies are stealing our voices, performance and likeness, training their algorithms on our data to produce a product intended to replace us.
He added, “Under current legislation, there’s nothing we artists can do about it.” It’s not just about protecting jobs – it’s also about protecting what it means to be an artist.
Marcus Hutton, who has been a voice actor for three decades, compiled a list of performance synthesis or AI companies and found more than 60, many of which have large venture capital funding. For example, London-based ElevenLabs this month raised $19 million in a round co-led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participants including Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Oculus co-founder Brendan Iribe.
You have to see it as it is: a wholesale financial transfer from the creative sector to the tech sector. This is very clear: Money is coming off our plate and into their plate, Hutton said. There is a danger every time an artist gets close to a microphone or in front of a camera that they could be barred from his AI rights.
ElevenLabs said it is working with voice actors and their representatives to understand how platforms like theirs can create more commercial opportunities for the industry. The company said, “We believe AI companies and creative communities can work together to ensure these technologies create new… routes to revenue, while enabling content creators to produce even better and more accessible content to global level.
Around 94% of creative industries workers earn less than £33,280 a year, the UK’s median full-time wage, according to a survey conducted by Equity. That level of pay makes them vulnerable in any negotiation. In an industry already using unscrupulous contracts against artists, the introduction of artificial intelligence has further weakened their position, according to lawyer Pavis.
Revoicer, the AI speech company, said Marston’s voice came from IBM’s cloud text-to-speech service. The start-up bought it from IBM, like thousands of other developers, at a price of $20 for 1 million characters of speech audio, or about 16 hours.
Legally, artists have little recourse. Data privacy laws are the only legislation that covers artificial intelligence, and the UK government has stated its desire for light IP regulation that allows AI innovation to thrive.
THE [UK] copyright law has not been touched in any major way for at least 25 years. It kind of predates the internet, voice actor Hutton said. The only rights artists have at the moment are consent. But in our business, you have to consent. If you don’t consent, you don’t work and you don’t eat. So it’s a very asymmetrical bargaining position.
Equity, which counts Hutton and Bouvard as members, has called for new rights to be codified into law, explicitly on time-limited contracts, rather than the industry standard of signing rights forever. It also requires that the law include the need for explicit consent if an artist’s voice or body will be cloned by artificial intelligence. Two weeks ago, the union released a toolkit providing model clauses and contracts on the use of artificial intelligence for artists and their agents to refer to.
I’m a working, working actor … probably one of the last generation of working every day actors who has managed to buy a house or raise children without being hugely famous, Hutton said. He’s depressing, but I just can’t see how he’s more sustainable.
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