How actors lose their voices to AI

Greg Marsden, a British voice actor of over 20 years’ experience, recently stumbled upon using his own voice for a demo online.

Marsden’s voice is one of many on the website WithdrawalIt offers an AI text-to-speech tool in 40 languages, with different intuitions, moods and styles.

He contacted the company because he didn’t remember agreeing to having his voice cloned using AI. Reviser said he bought his voice from IBM.

In 2005, Marston signed a contract with IBM to sign up for a satnav system. In an 18-year-old deal, an industry standard, Marsden signed away the rights to his voice in perpetuity, which at one point even had a buildable AI. Now, IBM has licensed its voice to third parties, who can use AI to clone it 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] Working in the same market, he still sells his voice for a living, now he’s competing with himself,” said Mathilde Bavis, the artist’s lawyer who specializes in digital cloning technologies. „He signed a document, but there was no agreement to clone him 20 years later with unforeseen technology.”

Thousands of other voiceover and performance artists are facing the same dilemma as Marston as companies race to commercialize generative AI, artificial intelligence systems that can quickly produce human-like text, images and content.

In the past year, voice integration technology has become more accurate, more widely available, and easier to manufacture, leading to new business models around AI cloning. Artists who rely on their voice and face are having their livelihoods threatened by potential exploitative deals, data scraping practices and alleged fraud.

Bavis said he has had at least 45 AI-related queries since January, including cases of hearing actors’ voices in phone scams such as fake insurance calls or AI-generated ads. Equity, the trade union for the arts and entertainment industry in England, says it has been working with Powys and has received several complaints about AI scams and exploitation over the past six months.

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„We’re seeing more and more members using their voice, image and with or without consent, using AI technology to create entirely new shows,” said Liam Budd, Equity’s industry officer for new media. „There’s no protection if you’re part of a data set of thousands or millions of people whose voices or likenesses have been stripped away by AI developers.”

Lawrence Bouvard, a London-based voice actor for audio books, commercials and radio dramas, has witnessed many instances of exploitative behaviour. He recently received Facebook alerts about fake castings, where AI websites ask actors to recite recipes or witty lines that are really just vehicles for AI models to reduce their voice data.

Some advertise regular voice work but slip into contracts on AI integration rules, while others take the lead but offer a pittance in exchange for perpetual rights to the actor’s voice. A recent job ad on creative jobs marketplace Mandy.com, for example, He described a half-day gig Recording of a five-minute script on video to create AI providers by technology company T-IT.

„This technology is already being used by companies like Microsoft to help them with their training videos,” the recruitment ad says. „Conversation is censored so the technology cannot be used to say anything explicit or offensive,” it added.

In exchange for the actor’s likeness and appearance, the agency pays individuals a flat fee of £600. D-ID said it paid „fair market prices”. It said the particular ad had been withdrawn and „does not reflect the final price”.

„Remember, without training data, there would be no AI,” Bouvard said at a recent event organized by the Trade Union Congress in Westminster. “Yet, without asking permission or giving due compensation . . . AI companies are taking away our voices, our performance and likenesses and training their algorithms on our data to create a product instead of us.

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He added, “Under the current law, we artists cannot do anything about it. It’s not just about protecting jobs: it’s about protecting what it means to be an artist.

Marcus Hutton, a voice actor for three decades, has been compiling a list of performance-enhancing, or AI, companies and has identified more than 60, many of them with significant venture capital funding. For example, London-based ElevenLabs raised $19 million this month in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz, which also included Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Oculus co-founder Brendan Irib.

„You have to look at it like that: a total transfer of funds from the creative industry to the tech industry. It’s very clear: money moving from our pot into their pot,” Hutton said. There is danger.”

Eleven Labs said it is working with voice actors and their representatives to understand how platforms like theirs can create more business opportunities for the industry. The company said: “We believe AI companies and creative communities can work together to ensure these technologies create something new. . . avenues of revenue, while enabling content creators to create even better and globally accessible content.

According to a survey by Equity, around 94 per cent of creative industry workers earn under £33,280 a year. That wage level makes them vulnerable in any negotiations. In an industry that already uses unfair contracts against artists, the introduction of AI has further weakened their position, says lawyer Bavis.

AI voice company Revoicer said Marsden’s voice came from IBM’s cloud text-to-speech service. The start-up bought it from IBM, „as did thousands of other developers,” at a rate of $20 per 1 million characters worth of speech audio, or about 16 hours.

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Legally, artists have little recourse. Data privacy laws are the only legislation that covers AI, and the UK government has stated its desire for light-touch IP regulation to allow AI innovation to flourish.

“The [UK] Copyright law has not been touched in any significant way for at least 25 years. It kind of predates the Internet,” said voice actor Hutton. “The only rights actors currently have is consent. But in our work, you have to agree. If you don’t agree, you won’t work, you won’t eat. So it’s a very asymmetric bargaining position.

Equity, which counts Hutton and Bouvard as members, has called for the new rights to be codified into law in expressly time-limited contracts, rather than the industry standard of signing away rights in perpetuity. It also demands express consent in law if AI is going to clone an artist’s voice or body. Two weeks ago, the union released a „toolkit” that provides model clauses and contracts on the use of AI that artists and their agents can refer to.

„I’m a working, working actor . . . I’m probably one of the last generation of everyday working actors who’s been able to buy a house or raise kids without being massively famous,” Hutton said. „It’s depressing, but I can’t see how that can last any longer.” .”

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