Voice actors, whose main job is their voice, are facing threats to their livelihoods due to the development of generative artificial intelligence (AI) that can traverse text, images, and sound. On the 24th of last month, The Washington Post reported the case of Irish voice actor Remy Michelle Clark, who discovered in January this year that a virtual character named “Olivia” on a text-to-speech conversion website was using the same tone and voice as hers. The website advertised Olivia’s voice as suitable for audiobooks, saying that it had a deep and calm voice.
Clark, who listened to her own voice directly, expressed discomfort, saying that “seeing one’s voice being transformed and manipulated is a very eerie thing,” in an interview with The Washington Post.
The newspaper pointed out that AI-generated voices, texts, and other works are not covered by copyright law, making it difficult for voice actors to receive legal protection. The report also noted that companies are increasingly inserting clauses in contracts with voice actors that allow them to use their voices unlimitedly and sell them to third parties.
In fact, Neil Throth, the developer of the voice conversion website that replicated Clark’s voice, revealed to The Washington Post that he had “signed a licensing agreement with Microsoft to give unlimited access to Clark’s voice samples.” Clark participated in the recording of the Irish version of Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.
After The Washington Post’s investigation, the website said it would delete Clark’s voice within a few hours, but Throth claimed via email that “we are not responsible for Clark’s situation.”
Voice actors are concerned that the future of their profession is in jeopardy as AI could make it easy for people to obtain the desired voice. Clark also stated, “For only $27 a month, you can use a voice that sounds just like mine on the site, so why would you pay $2,000 for a 30-second recording?” Despite the promise of the site to remove her voice, Clark remains worried that her voice may still be “sold” on other sites.
Voice actors facing threats to their livelihoods due to AI have limited options to rely on. The Washington Post pointed out that U.S. copyright law focuses on protecting the rights of celebrities, but does not adequately address the duplication of personal voices for profit. Daniel J. Gervais, a copyright law expert and professor at Vanderbilt Law School, explained that “U.S. law does not provide significant protection for people whose voices are assets. Federal copyright law does not protect individuals’ voices, and different state laws apply.”