Who Owns the Rights to Your Face?


As computers become more capable of rendering life-like characters, the concern isn’t about falling into the uncanny valley, but how easily a digital likeness can be manipulated.

As advanced as CGI is, it still isn’t quite able to create a completely realistic person from scratch, but tweaking existing images of genuine people is no problem at all. Whether it’s inserting a college student into an NCAA videogame years after he’s graduated or making a model slightly sexier for a magazine cover, digital trickery is leading us into an increasingly gray area of ownership, rights, morals and propriety. In Issue 215 of The Escapist, Haasim Mahanaim illustrates this point particularly well with Al Franken’s tale of digital woe:

[I]n 2006, an Ohio Republican Party newsletter featured a picture of Al Franken dressed like a bunny in adult diapers while clutching an oversized teddy bear. In reality, the photo had been doctored by transplanting Franken’s face into a scene in which he never participated. The deception was so convincing, years later (July 2009), well after Franken had been seated in the United States Senate, the image surfaced in the Cincinnati Enquirer. In a caption next to the forged image, columnist Peter Bronson asked: “Is this who you want making decisions about your health care?”

A situation like Franken’s may seem clear cut – he didn’t give permission for his picture to be altered, after all – but suppose the beautiful girl in the image on the right is a perfect representation of the artist’s ex-girlfriend. Does she have the right to object to its use, its creation, its existence? What rights do you have to someone else’s virtual representation of you? Read Attack of the Uncanny Valley and share your thoughts on the subject.

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