India High Court Bans Generative AI Use Harmful to Celebrity

Not the real Elvis, but then again Elvis was just a white guy stealing from Black musicians as an obvious impostor (Big Mama Thornton, Lloyd Price, Chuck Berry, Lavern Baker, Ray Charles, Roy Hamilton, Arthur Crudup, Junior Parker, Fats Domino, Arthur Gunter… just to name a few of his victims). Elvis now could be argued to have been a criminal given an India High Court ruling.

According to reports, Anil Kapoor, a highly renowned figure, is seeking protection against the unauthorized use of his name, image, and voice for commercial purposes. He wishes to prevent his public image from being depicted in a manner that he considers negative (and denies him control, including profit rights).

…Anil Kapoor is one of the most celebrated and acclaimed successful actors in the industry who has appeared in over 100 films, television shows, and web series. He said Kapoor has also endorsed a large variety of products and services and has appeared in several advertisements as well.

Sounds pretty famous.

Nothing says you have achieved fame like selling out endorsing a large variety of products and services. If you presented to me an AI-generated Anil Kapoor image on a shampoo bottle with some kind of changes (e.g. skin darkened) alongside a non-AI version, I’d be hard-pressed to distinguish authenticity between the two.

But my own ignorance about who this man wants to be seen as is irrelevant to assigning rights for his data, just like when someone says they can’t tell the difference between Elvis and the dozens of Black musicians he stole from. It actually matters that those Black musicians lost their audiences and their income when some young white boy used the latest technology to steal others’ data and give them no control or credit.

This court case of Kapoor centers around the fact that he should decide how he appears, control how others are allowed to portray him, and keep more money for himself if his persona is being used for profit. That doesn’t have much to do with celebrity in my mind, except that it’s easy to say the person is the product. Really it’s a more universal issue that everyone should control their own data, regardless of whether they can sell out endorse a large variety of products and services. But I suppose I have to admit his product endorsements means he has the kind of perceptible loss in revenue that means he’ll stand on behalf of us all.

He apparently even says a Mumbai word for “excellent” in such a way that needs protection from AI, because how he says it always links back to him.

…Kapoor’s counsel Anand submitted that the expression “jhakaas”, a Marathi slang, was popularised by the actor in Hindi films and as per press reports how he expresses the word is exclusively used by him. Anand claimed that Kapoor popularised this term in the 1980s with his unique style and delivery in various films and public appearances. “What’s interesting is this is not jhakaas alone, it’s the way he says it with a twisted lip,” Anand added to which Justice Singh said this is what the HC has to protect and not the word itself.

A twisted lip is interesting? Isn’t the definition of a signature move that its uniqueness means every use is a provable reference, therefore easily protected? I wouldn’t call that interesting, given other similar examples.

Spiky peroxide-blonde-haired Billy Idol repeats the word “masturbatory” three times with a sneer

Sneering while saying the word masturbatory. Clearly nobody but Billy Idol should be allowed to do this.

But seriously, I get the concept of this case is “informational self-determination” (sounds far better in German: informationelle Selbstbestimmung) and so I’m following eagerly along because this is about the future of the Web.

Yet also something doesn’t quite seem right in India.

What actually becomes interesting is a High Court in a country negatively portrays people while arguing that negative portrayals are real harms of huge consequence.

The judge engaged in very obviously racist language in an attempt to explain rights of a celebrity and the damage to his reputation from unwanted negative portrayals.

Justice Singh said while there can be no doubt that free speech about a well-known person is protected in the form of write-ups, parody, satires, criticism etc, which is genuine, but when the same crosses the line and results in tarnishment, blackening or jeopardising the individual’s personality and elements associated with the individual, it is illegal.

Blackening? Excuse me, Justice Singh?

Kapoor must be glad he isn’t black, as the court says blackening him crosses a line into real harm.

“The technological tools that are now available make it possible for any unauthorised user to make use of celebrities’ persona, by using such tools including Artificial Intelligence. The celebrity also enjoys the right of privacy and does not wish that his or her image, or voice is portrayed in a dark manner as is being done on porn websites,” the court added.

Portrayed in a dark manner? Come on.

Are we seriously supposed to believe being portrayed in a dark manner means crime has been committed? Isn’t dark something good? I hear that India can’t get enough dark chocolate lately, for example, claiming somehow all kinds of innovation and health benefits over the awful bad stuff of light chocolate:

High in Antioxidants
May Lower Blood Pressure
Improves Heart Health
Boosts Brain Function
May Lower Cholesterol
Helps Control Blood Sugar
Reduces Stress

They left out “makes justice system less racist”.

I am not in any way endorsing any products here, definitely not saying you should taste the supreme benefits of Royce India dark chocolate. To start with, I claim absolutely no celebrity…

Anyway, you can see in the court statement above the big AI money quote along-side all the racism, in case you were wondering how this case differed from decades of conflicts over pictures or videos.

Racism bubbles up hot and steamy throughout this court’s narrative about protecting a rich and powerful celebrity from any negative depictions.

The Court can’t turn a blind to such misuse of personality’s name and other elements and dilution, tarnishment are all actionable torts which Kapoor would have to be protected against, Justice Singh said.

Don’t turn a blind eye to tarnishment, they say, a word that means… wait a minute… have to look this one up in a dictionary just to be sure… to become darker.

WOT. Again?!

Is there any possible way in India for a High Court to say someone is harmed other than referring to dark as harm and inherently bad?

…the aspiration for white skin can be more directly traced to colonialism much in the way that racism originates with slavery and colonialism. It is with the arrival of the British colonialists that we see specific codified color lines. Unlike previous waves of incursions, the British, with their distinct whiteness, specifically emphasized the separation between themselves and the Indians. A large body of historical and socio-cultural literature has documented the British emphasis on whiteness as a form of racial superiority and their justification of colonization…

Actionable torts, indeed.

For me the case really, seriously begs the deeper question of whether racial discrimination is a tort.

Can a court be repeatedly emphasizing dark is bad and light is good, making obvious negative depictions of huge swaths of society while they claim to be protecting society against unwanted negative depictions?

I mean if someone used generative AI to actually darken Kapoor’s skin as a test case for this court, it seems by their words he would need to be protected from this. No? Self-own. On that same point, a court’s repeated portrayal of darker things as lesser or worse, means they are repeatedly engaging in the very thing they claim is so awful that it must be stopped immediately.

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