Indian actor Anil Kapoor wins court battle over AI use of his likeness

The Indian actor Anil Kapoor has won a significant victory in a New Delhi court over unauthorised AI use of his likeness.

Kapoor, who has appeared in dozens of hit Bollywood films as well as the Oscar-winning English-language drama Slumdog Millionaire, won an interim order against 16 defendants, with the court ordering that they be “restrained from in any manner utilising Anil Kapoor’s name, likeness, image, voice or any other aspect of his persona to create any merchandise, ringtones … either for monetary gain or otherwise.”

Kapoor told Variety: “I think [the decision] is very progressive and great not only for me but for other actors also … Because of the way AI technology is evolving every day.”

The court order comes at a crucial point in the struggle between the US writers and actors unions and the bodies representing studios. A key point of contention between Sag-Aftra and the studios concerns the use of AI to profit from an actor’s image in perpetuity, without approval or residuals.

Kapoor expressed his solidarity with striking actors in the US and hoped they would welcome his victory as “great positive news”

“I am always, completely with them in every which way, and I feel their rights should be protected, because everybody, big, small, popular, not popular – every actor has the right to protect themselves,” Kapoor said.

The actor took his case to India’s high court in response to the large number of distorted videos, gifs and emojis which bear his likeness. He was also concerned by the use of his catchphrase, “jhakaas,” first used in 1985 film Yudh, which roughly translates as “awesome”. All are now protected by court order.

“It’s not only for me,” said Kapoor. “Today I’m there to protect myself, but when I’m not there, the family should have the right to protect my [personality] and gain from it in future.”

The ethics of digital recreation of actors who have died were brought into focus by the on-screen resurrection of the late actor Peter Cushing in 2017’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Cushing’s estate approved the work done to bring the actor back to the big screen.

Speaking to the Guardian in March, the actor Michael Douglas said he was considering licensing his name and likeness “so the rights go to my family rather than to the metaverse”.

He continued: “It’s only matter of time before you’ll be able to recreate any dead person at any age with the voice and the mannerisms, so I want to have some control.”

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