Growing controversy of reviving celebrities with AI

Zhang Long
Using artificial intelligence to bring deceased celebrities back to the digital realm is a practice that can offer solace to some while opening wounds for others.
Zhang Long

A recent surge of AI-generated videos of deceased celebrities has sparked controversy. Especially concerning creators with an agenda to garner followers and profit.

The AI-generated deceased celebrities include Hong-Kong born singer Coco Lee, Hong Kong singer Leslie Cheung, and mainland actor Qiao Renliang.

Growing controversy of reviving celebrities with AI

Some of the AI-revived celebrities, Gao Yixiang (top left), Kobe Bryant and singer Yao Beina.

Qiao's father was informed by a family member that there were AI-generated videos of his deceased son circulating online. He said such content was unacceptable and made him feel uncomfortable.

"The videos were made without our knowledge and consent. It's like rubbing salt on our wounds. They should be taken down by the platform," Qiao's father said in an interview last week.

Growing controversy of reviving celebrities with AI

A screenshot of AI-revived Qiao Renliang.

After his discomfort was voiced, Qiao's AI-made videos have been taken down. However, there are still other similar videos abundant on a short-video platform.

It was revealed that an AI-made video, lasting from 30 seconds to 1 minute, would sell from 80 to 600 yuan (US$11.1-US$83.3). Many uploaders of such content take orders, some are also recruiting trainees and agents, according to a report.

There are also celebrity models available on e-commerce platforms priced from 8 to 25 yuan. The sellers describe these all-fitting models can be used to generate celebrity videos without training.

The business of reviving deceased celebrities has become a grey market. Generating and posting such videos might violate the law.

When AI-revived celebrities have become a business

Recently, SenseTime's founder Tang Xiao'ou, who passed away last year, appeared at the company's online annual meeting in the form of AI digital person. With the consent of his family, the SenseTime technology team used its technology to restore details of Tang's expressions and gestures.

Growing controversy of reviving celebrities with AI

An AI-made digital version of Tang Xiao'ou at the company's online annual meeting.

However, as more AI "resurrection" videos of celebrities appear on video platforms, the ensuing debate has begun to ferment.

On some video platforms, deceased celebrities "share their thoughts" in AI videos. The AI Godfrey Tsao, a Taiwan actor, was made to say: "I've heard that during the time I've been gone, some of you started working out, and some learned to cook... I'm not by your side, but I'm always with you in another world."

The AI version of singer Yao Beina was saying: "The place I've gone to still allows me to sing freely." Kobe Bryant, his AI version, greeted listeners in English: "I'm glad to meet you in this way again."

Growing controversy of reviving celebrities with AI

An AI-made deceased Kobe Bryant.

Compared to the high fidelity of Tang's speech video, these AI celebrity videos are less detailed, with noticeable issues in facial expressions, mouth, and eye movements. Still, at a glance, they appear as if the person is speaking.

In the comments, some fans hope the creators continue to release AI videos of their favorite stars, while others believe it's more appropriate for the deceased's families to release such videos.

Publishing AI "resurrection" videos of celebrities is a way for creators to attract customers on short video platforms. Some creators' pages show they undertake digital person creation and reviving loved ones among other services.

One creator explained how an AI video of a deceased celebrity could be made. "Just provide photos of the deceased loved one and the message you want to convey, and it can be customized for 89 yuan for a video under 30 seconds." After the AI video is made, buyers can publish it on video platforms, and creators, with consent, will also post it on their accounts.

Another creator charges 200 yuan for a one minute of reviving deceased celebrities. What's required is a one minute video of the celebrity talking clearly and video footage of his or her face.

Some AI celebrity video creators have released price lists, showing that generating a 1-minute talking video with a deceased person's photo costs 198 yuan with AI dubbing, and 398 yuan using the deceased's voice. Videos can also be generated in the deceased's dialect, with charges ranging from 398 to 598 yuan depending on the voice generation method and fidelity. The production team also plans to introduce real-time interactive chat and video call chat products with voice and text.

Growing controversy of reviving celebrities with AI

A setailed price list of reviving the deceased. Charges vary according to the level of fidelity.

The team is also recruiting apprentices and agents. To become an agent, a 980 yuan fee is required, and the team provides videos for production. The team offers agents a 60 percent discount off the price list, with the difference being the agent's profit. The creator said apprenticeship fees are higher, though the exact amount was not disclosed.

Multiple AI tools are now available for creating AI digital people. Previously, a Bilibili user made an AI video of a deceased loved one and shared the process, including uploading photos to Midjourney and optimizing them, importing recordings into audio editing software and cutting them into short clips, uploading the voice to Baidu PaddlePaddle AI Studio for voice synthesis model training, attempting voice synthesis with text input, and downloading the synthesized voice pack locally.

They also used ChatGPT for role-playing conversations and the D-ID digital person AI video platform website to upload avatars and synthesize models with text and audio.

For most people, the cost barrier to using AI tools for video production is not too high. AI video creators showed that the Midjourney fast image generation mode provides 15 hours per month for about 300 yuan, which is generally sufficient for non-professional filmmakers and those not producing a large volume of images. D-ID offers a free trial for the first two weeks, with annual fees from US$56 to US$1,293.

On e-commerce platform Taobao, the search for AI female celebrity will generate female celebrity character model packages, facilitating buyers to achieve AI face-swapping with female celebrities.

Growing controversy of reviving celebrities with AI

Some model packages on e-commerce platform Taobao.

These no-training-needed, ready to synthesize female celebrity "universal models" are priced at less than 25 yuan, with immediate delivery.

For example, for a 9 yuan Yang Mi universal model, the seller immediately replied with a cloud drive link. The drive contained a downloadable compressed file with 1.4GB of Yang Mi-related materials.

The seller stated that using DeepFaceLab software with the Yang Mi model allows users to replace all individuals in imported videos with Yang.

DeepFaceLab is an open-source software for AI face-swapping. For users who find it difficult to download the official version or encounter usage issues, Taobao sellers have also released a new version of DeepFaceLab, "fully localized, fixed many bugs, and added many features for viewing angles," priced at 10 yuan.

"Generating female celebrities" seems to be becoming a low-cost, low-barrier activity, but in reality, many risks are hidden.

Almost all of these products do not support a 7-day no-reason return policy. Since AI-generated content is a virtual product and non-refundable once delivered, it means that if consumers receive products that do not meet their expectations or the face-swapping effect is poor, it will be difficult to get their money back.

Liao Jianxun, a lawyer at the Guangdong Guoding law firm, said that publishing AI "resurrection" videos of deceased celebrities without the consent of their families, especially for commercial profit, is an infringement of rights, violating portrait rights. According to the Civil Code, if the name or portrait of a deceased person is infringed upon, relatives have the right to request the perpetrator to bear civil liability, including eliminating negative effects and compensating for emotional distress, and can demand the platform remove infringing videos. Compared to fans making videos without seeking a profit, those who profit commercially bear a heavier responsibility.

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