Human Likeness Licensing

August 15, 2023 (10mo ago) · @kgoryunov

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Figure 1. Human Likeness Licensing
Figure 1. Human Likeness Licensing

What if we could see our favorite humans appearing in movies, games, and ads, all while they get paid for it?

Not just celebrities, but also those we follow on social media and our close friends. Would you like to see your best friend featured in your favorite movie or brand ads?

Back to the history

In 1986, a movie called "Back to the Future" hit the screens, eventually becoming a massive success and starting a franchise along with two sequels. When it came time for producers to renegotiate contracts with the cast following the first movie, Crispin Glover, who played George McFly, insisted on equal pay to that of the lead actor, Michael J. Fox. However, producers disagreed and ultimately removed Glover from the franchise.

Producers were looking for a creative way to both retain George McFly's character in the story and exclude him at the same time. The solution was to employ a lookalike actor, dressed in makeup to resemble an older George McFly. Their trick aimed to convince audiences that Crispin Glover was still part of the cast, despite his absence.

When Crispin Glover discovered this manipulation, he raised concerns about the unauthorized use of his likeness. This situation led to a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the studio and producers for using his likeness without permission and future changes for the film industry.

To this day studios can not digitally recreate an actor without receiving permission because of Glover's hugely successful lawsuit. It became illegal to use an actor's likeness without proper compensation or credit, safeguarding their rights and creative integrity.

Fast forward to another example back in 2017 – In "Blade Runner 2049," producers digitally recreated a youthful version of Sean Young from the first movie, even though Sean Young herself never participated in any acting or motion capture. Yet, she received top billing and payment as if she had.

Today there are numerous examples where someone's likeness is used in movies, gamings, and ads, even though those individuals never took part in any production process.

The problem

Who owns the rights to a person's likeness – their voice and persona? How much control can they exert over their career's direction after their death? Could an actor renowned for dramas suddenly appear in a comedy? What if they're exploited for excessive brand endorsements in advertisements?

Today, the majority of people are using social media – taking selfies, sending texts – in other words, creating their digital footprint. This data includes how we look, think, and act, and could potentially be used to take a digital clone from just a superficial twin to an intelligent one that can convincingly converse with the living.

If these digital clones are doomed to an eternity of work, who benefits from that? These are critical questions that remain unanswered, bearing an ethical dimension as well.

Human likeness licensing

What if we could see our favorite humans appearing in movies, games, and ads, all while they get paid for it? Not just celebrities, but also those we follow on social media and our close friends. Imagine a symbiosis between humans and AI that empowers humans to protect and monetize their likeness, while collaborating with favorite brands and companies.

Diving into the legal, business, and technical aspects of this concept, likeness licensing is not that much different from other forms of licensing, such as music licensing for example. Just as musicians receive royalty payment each time their song is streamed, what if we could apply a similar model to likeness licensing?

Likeness LLC

First things first, there should be a legal entity that oversees and safeguards likeness rights. Likeness LLC serves as an entity designed to protect all aspects resembling human likeness, from appearance to voice.

Figure 2. Likeness LLC and Streaming Platforms
Figure 2. Likeness LLC and Likeness Royalties

Big tech platforms like Meta, Snapchat, Netflix, and others already possess the data required to create digital twins easily. They also own the distribution channels for delivering them. The only missing piece is the contractual agreement between streaming platforms and individuals.

Likeness LLCs will govern how humans collaborate with brands and companies, enabling streaming and advertising platforms to use someone's likeness while paying them a fee for every stream. Likeness LLCs should also incorporate regulations and exclusions to ensure collaborations align with the individual's preferences and values.

Likeness royalties

For each collaboration, humans receive likeness licensing royalties. The greater the number of likeness streams, the higher the royalty payments distributed by streaming platforms.

Looking into the future, likeness licensing may also emerge as a significant revenue source. Given its visual nature, likeness streaming might even surpass the music streaming market, which is projected to reach $50 billion by 2030.

Figure 3. Global recorded music market revenues. Source: IFPI Global Music Report 2023, Goldman Sachs Research
Figure 3. Global recorded music market revenues. Source: IFPI Global Music Report 2023, Goldman Sachs Research

Likeness royalty financing

As likeness licensing establishes itself as a robust and sustainable revenue stream, we may begin to see options for likeness royalty financing, similar to the music royalty financing in the music industry.

Likeness royalty financing could also redefine direct investment in individuals. Early in their careers, individuals could access growth capital, while investors secure a stake in their future success.

Human likeness could act as a proxy for an individual's success. If there's demand for someone's persona in movies, games, or ads, it's likely that the person excels in some aspect or, at the very least, entertains others.

P.S. Would you license your likeness as a human?

-k

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