Lynn, who remains active on social media, thinks lack of education is a big issue. “Some people don’t even know that it’s not legal to use other people’s photos,” she said. Most people say, ‘OK, I’m just gonna use this photo—it’s not a big deal.’ And if every case were taken seriously, it would take a lot of time.”
A legal affair
Often, when people think of deepfakes and synthetic media, they immediately jump to the adult film industry or politics, but these synthesizations go far beyond such industries. “It’s not just in the realm of world leaders and national security anymore,” Gupta said. “It’s getting into the realm of personal identity and personal security.”
As of 2019, users in China are also required by law to be upfront about their use of deepfake-generated, AI, or VR-related media—otherwise, they could be charged with a criminal offense. Remember Chinese Elon Musk, who gained the attention of the Tesla CEO himself? Chinese Musk, known as “马一龙,” or Yilong Ma, was indefinitely suspended on Douyin, the original and separate version of TikTok, last May for failing to disclose to his fans that his videos were created with deepfake technology.
In 2020, China passed the civil Code Of The People’s Republic Of China, which protects a person’s personality rights and portrait rights. Personal rights, defined by Article 990, include a person’s right to their name, portrait, reputation, honor, and privacy, among other rights. Portrait rights protect a person’s likeness, personal image, and appearance.
“That includes people using technology to fake your likeness, you know, any kind of drawing of your likeness,” Jeremy Daum, senior fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, said. “You can have a civil action to take damages. Usually, what happens, though, is—law or no law—it’s such small potatoes in terms of damages.”
In my case, with my image or likeness circulating on Taobao, JD, and other marketplaces, I would be protected under these Chinese laws. Additionally, the Cyberspace Administration of China recently announced that all platforms in China that create or provide these types of services now need to get a person’s consent to use their voice or image in a deepfake.
So, China, as a whole, does have stringent laws in place. In the US by contrast, California, Texas, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, and Illinois have certain deepfake restrictions in place, too, but they’re not catch-alls, and these laws still leave room for bad-faith actors to scoot around regulations. It’s time to establish stronger protections that cover international waters. When we talk about media making the rounds in the US or in China, we’re actually talking about media that’s generally accessible around the globe thanks to the internet.
Victims of deepfake technologies have no choice but to resort to specific domestic laws, Lam said. He and his team expect these issues to increase in coming years, far beyond China and the US. “We are seeing more gray areas where laws need to catch up with technology,” he said.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that anyone can use image synthesization and digital tools to copy, paste, and repeat. Bruce Willis and I are apparently no exception.
“I think this is the next version of identity theft,” Gupta said. “And it’s just getting started.”