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What do you do when AI takes away your voice?| GuyWhoKnowsThings


Last summer, while driving to a doctor's appointment near their Manhattan home, Paul Skye Lehrman and Linnea Sage listened to a podcast about the rise of artificial intelligence and the threat it posed to the livelihoods of writers, actors and other entertainment professionals.

The topic was especially important for the young couple. They made a living as voice actors and artificial intelligence technologies were beginning to generate voices that sounded like the real thing.

But podcast had an unexpected turn. To underline the threat of AI, the host conducted a long interview with a talking chatbot named Poe. He sounded just like Mr. Lehrman.

“I was interviewing my voice about the dangers of AI and the damage it could have on the entertainment industry,” Lehrman said. “We stopped the car and sat there, in absolute disbelief, trying to figure out what had just happened and what we should do.”

Lehrman and Sage are now suing the company that created the robot's voice. They claim that Lovo, a startup in Berkeley, California, illegally used recordings of their voices to create technology that could compete with their voice work. After hearing a clone of Mr. Lehrman's voice on the podcast, the couple discovered that Lovo had also created a clone of Ms. Sage's voice.

The couple joins a growing number of artists, editors, computer programmer and other creators who have sued makers of AI technologies, arguing that these companies used their work without permission to create tools that could ultimately replace them in the job market. (The New York Times defendant two of the companies, OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft, accused them in December of using their copyrighted news articles to create their online chatbots).

In their lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court on Thursday, the couple said anonymous Lovo employees had paid them for some voice clips in 2019 and 2020 without disclosing how the clips would be used.

They say Lovo, founded in 2019, is violating federal trademark law and several state privacy laws by promoting clones of their voices. The lawsuit seeks class action status, and Lehrman and Sage invite other voice actors to join it.

“We don't know how many more people have been affected,” said his lawyer, Steve Cohensaying.

Lovo denies the lawsuit's claims, said David Case, an attorney representing the company. He added that if everyone who provided voice recordings to Lovo gave consent, “then there is no problem.”

Tom Lee, the company's chief executive, said in a podcast episode last year that Lovo was now offering a revenue-sharing program that allowed voice actors to help the company create voice clones of themselves and receive a share of the money made by those clones.

The lawsuit appears to be the first of its kind, said Jeffrey Bennett, general counsel for SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents 160,000 media professionals worldwide.

“This lawsuit will show people, particularly technology companies, that there are rights to their voice, that there is a whole group of people who make a living using their voice,” he said.

In 2019, Lehrman and Sage were promoted as voice actors in Fiverr, a website where freelancers can advertise their work. Through this online marketplace, they were often asked to provide voice work for commercials, radio spots, online videos, video games, and other media.

That year, Ms. Sage was contacted by an anonymous person who paid her $400 to record several radio scripts and explained that the recordings would not be used for public purposes, according to correspondence cited in the lawsuit.

“These are test scripts for radio ads,” the anonymous person said, according to the lawsuit. “They will not be disclosed externally and will only be consumed internally, so they will not require rights of any kind.”

Seven months later, another unidentified person contacted Mr. Lehrman about a similar job. Lehrman, who also works as a film and television actor, asked how the clips would be used. The person said several times that they would be used only for academic and research purposes, according to correspondence cited in the lawsuit. Mr. Lehrman received $1,200. (He provided longer recordings than Ms. Sage.)

In April 2022, Mr. Lehrman discovered a Youtube video about the war in Ukraine that was narrated by a voice that sounded like his.

“It is my voice that speaks about weapons in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict,” he said. “I turn white as a ghost and get goosebumps on my arms. “I knew I had never said those words in that order.”

For months, he and Mrs Sage struggled to understand what had happened. They hired a lawyer to help them track down who had made the YouTube video and how Mr. Lehrman's voice had been recreated. But the owner of the YouTube channel seemed to be based in Indonesia and they had no way of finding the person.

They then listened to the podcast on the way to the doctor's office. Through the podcast “Deadline Strike Talk”, they were able to identify the source of Mr. Lehrman's voice clone. A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology built the chatbot using Lovo's speech synthesis technology.

Mrs. Sage also found a online video in which the company had presented its voice technology to investors during an event in Berkeley in early 2020. In the video, a Lovo executive showed a synthetic version of Ms. Sage's voice and compared it to a recording of his real voice. They both starred alongside a photograph of a woman who was not her.

“I was in their performance video to raise money,” Ms. Sage said. Since then, the company has increased more than 7 million dollars and has more than two million customers around the world.

Mr. Lehrman and Ms. Sage also discovered that Lovo was promoting voice clones of her and Mr. Lehrman on his website. After sending the company a cease and desist letter, the company said it had removed its voice clones from the site. But Lehrman and Sage argued that the software powering these voice clones had already been downloaded by an untold number of the company's customers and could still be used.

Lehrman also questioned whether the company had used the couple's voices along with many others to build the core technology powering its voice cloning system. Speech synthesizers often learn their skills by analyzing thousands of hours of spoken words, in the same way that OpenAI's ChatGPT and other chatbots learn their skills by analyzing large amounts of text selected from the Internet.

Lovo acknowledged that he had trained his technology using thousands of hours of recordings of thousands of voices, according to correspondence in the lawsuit.

Case, the lawyer representing Lovo, said the company trained its artificial intelligence system using audio from a freely available database of English-language recordings called Openslr.org. He did not respond when asked if voice recordings from Lehrman and Sage had been used to train the technology.

“We hope to regain control over our voices, over who we are, over our careers,” Lehrman said. “We want to represent others who have had this happen to them and those who it will happen to if nothing changes.”


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