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The Elon Musk Deepfake Was a Joke. But More Celebrity Face Fakes Could Be Coming

Deepfakes have become several things — vehicles of misinformation, jokes, an underappreciated art form — but there’s one thing that could make them very attractive to marketers: It’s probably cheaper than hiring a celebrity for your video.

Edward Webb I Wikimedia Commons

This is why, according to the Wall Street Journal, they are becoming more common, harder to spot, and the outlet reports, tough to litigate.

And there might not be anything anyone can do about it.

There isn’t a crystal-clear avenue for someone who’s looking to initiate legal action against a person who’s using a deepfake of their likeness — and in the age of social media, a video might be too widespread to tame, anyway, the outlet reported.

What is a deepfake?

Deepfakes are videos where a face has been digitally manipulated to look like another person’s face. The term was actually created by a Reddit user, whose username was also deepfake, to describe digital face-switching in pornography, according to MIT.

They’re also tough to spot. One expert told the WSJ that deepfakes could make scouting misinformation even more difficult.

“We’re having a hard enough time with fake information. Now we have deepfakes, which look ever more convincing,” Ari Lightman a professor of digital media at Carnegie Mellon told the outlet.

What was the deepfake of Elon Musk?

Last Wednesday, real estate tech startup reAlpha — the same one that posted a deepfake video of Musk in a bathtub — posted another faux Musk.

In this one, he’s being held hostage in a warehouse. The video explains reAlpha’s business model with a few jokes about Musk, such as that the company should have properties on Mars.

It doesn’t quite look like Musk, and the bottom of the video says “This is NOT actually Elon Musk. But we wouldn’t be mad if fake Elon can get Real Elon’s Attention.”

Why are deepfakes becoming more popular?

Deepcake, digital media deepfake company, which is involved in a controversy over whether or not it had the right to make a deepfake of Bruce Willis, told the WSJ that the practice is cost-efficient.

“In six months, we made 10 completely different creatives and concepts with digital Bruce Willis working with different directors,” a Deepcake told WSJ. “It is difficult to imagine such a production with a real actor.”

What celebrities have been deepfaked?

Deepfakes are also used for jokes and memes. One TikToker, Jesse Richards, has made an online career of creating funny videos with convincing deepfakes of videos of people from Millie Bobby Brown to Zac Efron.

@iamjesserichards Replying to @valeriiaaa.24__ you asked #strangerthings #milliebobbybrown ♬ original sound – IAmJesseRichards

Last spring, a deepfake went viral for its uber-realistic portrayal of Tom Cruise.

However, that video points out an important limitation of the technology. The video’s creator, Chris Ume told Vice post-production alone took him 24 hours. His spokesperson also noted the work because of the Cruise imitator he used to film the content.

“Even after all that work, you can still see a few glitches,” Ume told the outlet.

As for the less-realistic Musk deepfake, Christie Currie chief marketing officer of reAlpha, told the Journal they worked to make it clear the video was a parody or joke. (Satire is protected free speech.)

One expert told WSJ celebrities can (and have, such as Woody Allen nabbing a settlement in 2009 over an American Apparel commercial) sue under the “Right of Publicity” laws.

This means people have a right to own their own images, per a federal law related to unfair competition, which also grants the “right to protection against false endorsement, association, or affiliation.”

Still, only a few states have passed laws related specifically to deepfake videos — California, Texas, and Virginia.

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