According to published reports, George Carlin’s estate settled right of publicity and copyright claims relating to an AI-scripted comedy special using a “sound-alike” of George Carlin which performed the generated script. The special – “I’m Glad I’m Dead” – sought to reflect how Carlin would have commented on current events since his death in 2008. While most of the settlement terms are confidential, it is significant as one of the first resolutions of a case involving these issues. According to plaintiff’s lawyer, the defendants agreed to permanently remove the comedy special and to never repost it on any platform. They also agreed not to use Mr. Carlin’s image, voice or likeness on any platform without approval from the estate. There is no indication of whether the settlement included monetary damages.

In its complaint, plaintiff alleged that Defendants:

  • misappropriated the name, image and likeness of Carlin violating his rights of publicity; and
  • unlawfully used Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works for building and training a dataset for purposes of generating an output intended to mimic Plaintiffs’ copyrighted work (i.e., Carlin’s stand-up comedy) violating Plaintiffs’ exclusive rights under copyright.

This settlement is not a binding legal decision, but nevertheless is a successful lawsuit against an AI deepfake of a celebrity. Other cases involving these types of issues are pending and more will undoubtedly be filed.

The proliferation of AI-based celebrity deep fakes is an issue of growing concern. Some regulatory efforts are underway. See, e.g., FTC Proposes New Protections to Combat AI Impersonation of Individuals, whereby the FTC is seeking public comment on a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking that would prohibit the impersonation of individuals. The deepfake problem does not just impact celebrities. Due to other significant threats, the issue is being addressed by the NSA and other agencies. See, e.g., NSA, U.S. Federal Agencies Advise on Deepfake Threats.

Some of the more responsible AI platforms are employing content moderation systems to detect and block attempts to generate deepfakes. Other technology-based solutions exist (e.g., filters) and more are being developed. While regulatory efforts and technology approaches are helpful, they alone will not solve the problem anytime soon. For now, the best way to for celebrities to address deepfakes that misappropriate their right of publicity or copyrights is too promptly file a lawsuit. This lawsuit was filed on January 25, 2024. A joint stipulation for a permanent injunction was filed April 2, 2024.