Jay-Z’s Company, Roc Nation, Attempts To Take Down Deepfakes

Roc Nation LLC, the entertainment agency founded by Jay-Z, has filed takedown notices against deepfake videos portraying the American rapper, The Guardian reports. Notable examples include a clip where he appears to be singing Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and another where he is shown rapping the well-known “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The deepfakes appear on the YouTube channel Vocal Synthesis, which shared the contents of one of the takedown notices.

“This content unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.”

Deepfakes use existing images or videos and replace them with a person’s likeness to create fake recordings that look and sound exactly the individual they are trying to imitate. In the case of Voice Synthesis’ videos, the deepfake is created by running the rapper’s songs through Google’s open-source Tacotron 2 text-to-speech model and then having the synthesized voice read out any desired text.

Though the owner of the channel has stated that they had no malicious intentions with their clips, there have been a lot of concerns in recent years regarding deepfakes and the various ways that they can be used to misrepresent others. Deepfake videos were outlawed in California — the state in which Jay-Z resides — in 2018 and banned on Facebook earlier this year.

Initially, in response to the Roc Nation’s copyright notices, the Billy Joel and Shakespeare deepfakes were taken down, while others remained on the channel, including one depicting Jay-Z rapping the Book of Genesis. However, YouTube has since reinstated both videos for the time being.

“After reviewing the DMCA takedown requests for the videos in question, we determined that they were incomplete. Pending additional information from the claimant, we have temporarily reinstated the videos,” a representative told The Verge.

The anonymous user behind Vocal Synthesis responded to the situation in a YouTube video using the synthesized voices of Donald Trump and several former U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama. In the clip, they expressed their disappointment in both Jay-Z and Roc Nation for targeting a small YouTuber in such a way. They also gave their own view on the legality of the situation.

“I’m not a lawyer and have not studied intellectual property law, but logically I don’t really understand why mimicking a celebrity’s voice using an AI model should be treated differently than someone naturally doing an (extremely accurate) impression of that celebrity’s voice,” the YouTuber said in an interview with Andy Baio.

There’s a possibility the channel may be in the right, as copyright laws are not yet as clear-cut in the digital world as they are in the physical one. Creative Commons has stated that it is ill-advised to apply the current copyright system to AI as it has not yet been adapted to a digital environment. As such, there is currently no easy solution to the situation between artists like Jay-Z and the deepfake channels that impersonate them.

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