6

In my country copyright is barely a thing.

There was a well-known voice-actor in my country who died several years ago. He spoke on so many advertisements and animations.

After his death one person was hired by the state TV to speak on advertisements without acknowledging. His voice was exactly identical to the deceased voice-actor. People first thought it's one of the last ads spoken by the voice-actor prior to his death. But after several months people realized it's an imitator (the ads were so new that the products being advertised didn't exist in the voice-actor's life).

No one knows the name of the new voice-actor at all. And no one has sued the state TV until now.

Even the voices of some living well-known actors/voice-actors are imitated in ads of the state TV. But the voices aren't identical. So people realize that's another person easily. Of course, imitating a living person's voice without acknowledging is again not good.

There are even singers who sing with the voices of well-known singers. It's also not good at all, because when the name isn't stated it's an act of impersonating and deceiving others.

Now this question came to my mind that if the same thing happens in a country like USA what happens? Is voice copyrightable after death? Can the state TV or the person imitating the well-known figure be sued? Will the law be in favor of the plaintiff in this case?

3
  • 11
    Someone may be able to answer fully, but the short answer is that in the United States, a voice is not really copyrightable at all. There are, however, publicity rights that may prohibit the kind of activity you're talking about.
    – bdb484
    Commented Oct 13, 2023 at 17:38
  • 1
    Similar case (but with permission): AI brings back the voice of a deceased Cyberpunk 2077 actor for Phantom Liberty
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 2:54
  • to make @bdb484's point in a different way: this is basically a Brave New World. Technology has gained a ton more ground faster than the legal system has grown to keep a leash on it, so there is going to be a lot of situations that will have to get shaken out. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 5:04

1 Answer 1

21

The characteristics of an individual's voice are not subject to copyright protection. A recording of someone's voice is, or may be, but it is the audio recording that is protected by copyright; the specific performance of the individual that was fixed in audio format. (The words spoken may also be protected by copyright as a literary work.)

Furthermore, the ownership of the copyright in a recording of someone's voice may be complex. In any event, copyright in a recording of a simulated voice would belong to the person simulating the voice or to the person making the recording. Consider, for example, that Alice paints an image of Bob's face from memory rather than as a copy of some other image. The only copyright in that painting belongs to Alice. Similarly, if Alice records an impersonation of Bob or a synthesized imitation of Bob's voice, Bob has no copyright in that recording.

If, however, Bob is a famous actor, he may have personality rights in his image or voice. I am not aware of any efforts to unify the protection of personality rights across jurisdictions, analogous to the Berne convention on copyright, so enforceability of personality rights probably varies widely across jurisdictions, all the more so when it comes to the personality rights after death.

3
  • Generally the sound of someone's voice can't be trademarked, but specific sounds and words can be. If the speaker was known for a signature catch-phrase, using that phrase or one very similar could be considered a trademark violation.
    – barbecue
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 16:12
  • @barbecue : and even that only in the case where the alleged infractor would mislead the audience into being (or representing) the real one. This is the very nature of the trademark, to forbid others from acting in your name without authorization.
    – vsz
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 4:13
  • @vsz True, but pragmatically speaking, a big company with a lot of lawyers can bully a smaller one into submission even if the case has no merit, by simply overwhelming them with expensive legal bills.
    – barbecue
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 12:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .