Art imitates life imitates art. Or in the case of Netflix’s Black Mirror, episode 1, Joan Is Awful, perhaps Artificial Intelligence imitates Right of Publicity? [Spoiler alert: stop reading if you do not want commentary on the episode.] The episode focuses on Annie Murphy’s character, Joan, whose life ends up as real-time content for a show that does not try to conceal its source content, a presumably regular user of fictional streaming content provider Streamberry. Having the circumstances and events of her life dramatized and portrayed in the show quickly puts her life in turmoil as she figures out what is going on. Eventually she consults an attorney who explains that Joan assigned the right to exploit her name, image, and likeness (i.e., Right of Publicity) in Streamberry programming. Perhaps a nod is owed to Netflix for confronting this scenario head-on, especially in light of the current writer’s and actor’s strike protesting, in part, how streaming services do not fairly compensate them as well as how AI stands to facilitate such inequities. Joan’s lawyer points to the Streamberry user terms and conditions, which she concedes Joan did not see since it was online in the form of a click-through agreement that few people read and even fewer could do anything to edit or revise. In the episode, Joan’s life events are portrayed in Streamberry’s dramatization by Salma Hayek, who plays herself in the show and ends up in a similar legal quandary, having also authorized her Right of Publicity to be used in new content without her direct involvement. The show brings up portrayals of portrayals, but here is an especially interesting segment of dialogue:
Joan: I’m gonna sue Selma Hayek.
Lawyer: For what?
Joan: For…for…for passing herself off as me. She has no right to do that.
Lawyer: It’s not really Salma Hayek.
Joan: Yes, it is.
Lawyer: No, technically the show deploys a digital likeness of Miss Hayek…she licensed her image to them. The entire show is CGI. It’s generated by some kind of super advanced deep fake quantum computer mumbo-jumbo….
…[explanation that the information about Joan’s life is captured from her devices and monitoring]…
Lawyer: I hate to say it, but this thing is watertight. They got you every which way and then some. My advice is to try and ignore it.”
None of this could never happen, right?
Here is the IMDb link to the Joan Is Awful episode: IMDb Black Mirror episode Joan Is Awful