👄 Something about Her....

Why all eyes should be on ScarJo vs. OpenAI

🤖 Something about Her

In case you’ve been living under a rock this week, there’s a monumental AI IP lawsuit happening between actress Scarlett Johannson (ScarJo) and big tech OpenAI. Not only will this be important to watch from a cultural standpoint, but it’ll massively determine the relationship between AI and IP which could potentially up-end all creatives and freelancers.


  • Last year (2023) - OpenAI CEO Sam Altman approached Scarlett Johansson to request permission to use her voice as an AI assistant, but she declined the offer.

  • May 16th, 2024 (two days before the 18th release) - Altman again tried to persuade ScarJo to allow the use of her voice but she refused again.

  • May 18th, 2024 - OpenAI unveils its latest model, GPT-4o, which includes a voice assistant feature called "Voice Mode" with five selectable voices, one of which was named "Sky" and sounded strikingly similar to Johansson's voice from the movie "Her"

  • On the day of the demo - Altman posts a one-word tweet "her," which was widely interpreted as a reference to Johansson's role in the film "Her"

  • May 20th, 2024 - ScarJo releases a statement expressing her shock and anger over hearing the Sky voice and accusing OpenAI of using her voice without her permission despite previous refusals

  • May 21, 2024 - OpenAI pauses the availability of the Sky voice and claims it was not an imitation of Johansson but belonged to a different voice actor

  • May 22, 2024 - Johansson hires legal counsel

  • May 23, 2024 - The unnamed actress claims that it feels personal and nobody has ever compared her to Scarlett Johannson before. Reddit forums put money on Celia Keenan-Bolger as the voice of Sky.

This is kind of a big deal

The case is significant for freelance and knowledge workers because it raises important questions about intellectual property rights, consent, and the ethical use of AI technologies in creative fields.

A few reasons why this case should matter:

  1. Precedent for future AI disputes - This case could set a precedent for how AI companies must obtain consent, provide compensation, handle the use of personal data, creative works, and likenesses in their training data and models. See also NYT vs. OpenAI for this.

  2. AI’s impact on creative professionals - This case highlights the need for clear guidelines and safeguards to protect the livelihoods of those in creative fields (writers, artists, voice actors, and other creative professionals). See World Economic Forum discussions at Davos.

  3. Ethical AI development - Freelancers and knowledge workers may want to ensure that the AI tools they use are truly “open” and developed with transparency, accountability, and respect for individual rights. More and more companies are being accused of “Openwashing”.

  4. Payment and compensation - The current go-to model of time-and-materials-based pricing is broken as soon as AI enters the picture. Not only does it penalize workers for productivity gains made with AI, but it does not account for future gains if their IP or likeness is used to train models that will produce more revenue in the future. AI’s “godfather” says that AI will force universal basic income at this rate.

  5. David and Goliath - How many other independents have had their IP and likeness stolen to train models to date but don’t have the same access to cash and legal clout as ScarJo to stand up to big tech? There need to be mechanisms for any ol’ freelancer to be able to hold their ground and protect their work.

What’s next? We wait to see if the lawsuit comes to fruition, papers become public, and see details on the merits of the case.

That’s all for now, pals. See ya next week.