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Scarlett Johansson's 'shocking' ChatGPT voice 'imitation' claims - inside the star's legal challenge

The actress voiced an artificial intelligence assistant in the 2013 movie Her

Bryony Gooch
US Writer
May 21, 2024
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Scarlett Johansson has threatened legal action against OpenAI, as she has accused the company of copying her voice after she refused to license it to them.

The actress released a statement revealed that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman had originally asked her to voice the company's controversial AI system, ChatGPT4.0 - particularly it's ChatBot Sky, back in September 2023.

scarlett johansson black dress© Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock (14152989bg) Scarlett Johansson God's Love We Deliver Golden Heart Awards, New York, USA - 16 Oct 2023

"He told me that he felt that by my voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers to feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI," Scarlett said. "He said that he felt my voice would be comforting to people."

The Marvel actress declined the offer after "much consideration and for personal reasons", but nine months later her friends, family and the general public "all noted how the newest system named 'Sky' sounded like me", she revealed.

"When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered, and disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference", she continued.

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 10:  (L-R) Actress Rooney Mara, director Spike Jonze and actors Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson attend 'Her' Premiere during The 8th Rome Film Festival at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on November 10, 2013 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)© Vittorio Zunino Celotto
Scarlett starred in Her with Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix

In a moment stranger than fiction, Scarlett then added that the OpenAI CEO had "even insinuated that the similarity was intentional", as he tweeted the word 'her' - seemingly a reference to the actress's 2013 film Her by Spike Jonze. In the film, Scarlett voices an artificial intelligence virtual assistant with whom Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore Twombly forms an intimate relationship with.

The actress alleges that two days before the demo for this new AI was released, Altman contacted her agent asking her to reconsider, but "before we could connect, the system was out there."

Following the release of ChatGPT 4.0, Scarlett hired legal counsel, who wrote two letters to Altman and OpenAI, setting out what they had done and asking how they'd created the voice for Sky. 

OpenAI's response

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 06: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman smiles during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 06, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Altman delivered the keynote address at the first-ever Open AI DevDay conference.(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)© Justin Sullivan
Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI

Following this legal challenge, the company "reluctantly agreed to take down the 'Sky' voice" on May 19. They shared a blog post explaining how the voices for ChatGPT were chosen, where they asserted that they completed extensive research and reviewed the submissions of 400 voice actors, paying "above top-of-market rates" to the five voices chosen.

Altman later released a statement which read: "The voice of Sky is not Scarlett Johansson's and it was never intended to resemble hers. We cast the voice actor behind Sky's voice before any outreach to Ms. Johansson."

He then apologized to the actress for not communicating "better".

Hollywood's battle with artificial intelligence

A sign reads 'Unions Stand Together' as SAG-AFTRA members walk the picket line in solidarity with striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) workers outside Netflix offices on July 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California© Getty
A sign reads 'Unions Stand Together' as SAG-AFTRA members walk the picket line in solidarity with striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) workers outside Netflix offices on July 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California

Scarlett's legal challenge against the AI startup comes at a time where multiple creatives are expressing their concern about how the recent wave of artificial intelligence advances could impact their work.

A key tenet of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes directly related to concerns about how studios would use AI. Writers wanted to make sure AI couldn't be trained on their previous work or manipulate it without their permission, while actors wanted regulation on how the technology could be used to recreate their performances.

Taylor Swift serves up some major custom outfits on stage during her Eras Tour© Getty Images
Taylor Swift faced issues with deepfakes of her own

Similarly, after singer Taylor Swift fell victim to explicit deepfakes, members of congress called for new laws to criminalize the creation of these images.

Some celebrities have embraced artificial intelligence, with the likes of Kendall Jenner, Snoop Dogg and Paris Hilton striking deals with Meta for their likeness to be used to characterize chatbots. 

Scarlett expressed her own awareness of the growing conversations surrounding this technology, as she explained in the statement: "In a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and the protection of our own likeness, I believe these are questions that deserve absolute clarity."

She continued: "I look forward to resolution in the form of transparency and the passage of appropriate legislation to ensure that individual rights are protected."

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