Scarlett Johansson sues AI app maker for cloning her likeness — here's what happened

Scarlett Johansson
(Image credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Scarlett Johansson is taking legal action against an AI app developer for using a clone of her voice to endorse its software. The ad, for AI image editor Lisa AI: 90s Yearbook & Avatar, also included an AI-generated version of her face and behind-the-scenes clips from Black Widow.

This is the latest in a growing number of AI-related lawsuits, although previous action has been focused on the copyright of content used to train a model, or where the AI produces images or text in the style of a writer, artist or musician. 

The most recent action saw Universal Music Group sue Claude AI maker Anthropic over the way it generates lyrics in the style of its artists.

What was in the ad?

The advert for Lisa AI opens with footage from the filming of Black Widow with Johansson saying “What’s up guys? I’m Scarlett and I want you to come with me,” before transitioning into a slideshow of images designed to look like the actress created by the app.

Over the top of the images is a voice-over, made to sound like Johansson saying “It’s not limited to avatars only. You can also create images with texts and even your AI videos. I think you shouldn’t miss it.”

Covert Software, makers of the Lisa AI app, added a disclaimer at the bottom of the ad that reads: “Images produced by Lisa AI. It has nothing to do with this person.”

The ad was 22 seconds long and spotted by the star’s legal team on X/Twitter on October 28. It isn’t clear how long it was available but has since been completely removed from the site, according to Variety which first reported the story.

What happens next?

The Her actress — a movie in which she plays an artificial intelligence — did not endorse the app and her representative, Kevin Yorn said they do not take these things lightly. "Per our usual course of action in these circumstances, we will deal with it with all legal remedies that we will have."

The AI app definitely was clearly attempting to replicate her likeness and it should not be difficult for Johansson to prove they engaged in the unauthorized commercial use of her likeness.

George Salinas, George Salinas lawyers

In California, there are strict laws around the right of privacy, particularly the unauthorized use of name, voice, signature, photograph and likeness for the purpose of advertising or promotion and it is this avenue Johansson’s team is likely to go down.

The app is still available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. It lets users upload photos of themselves and turn them into AI versions. It is one of several similar apps offering users the ability to adapt images of themselves but they have come under criticism for copyright and privacy implications.

Omar Ochoa, founder of law firm Omar Ochoa, said courts will likely side with the established rights of Scarlett Johansson and enforce licensing requirements on the developer for the use of her likeness. 

"In some sense, it's a good test case for an important legal battle: protecting established legal rights vs. support for AI development when it pushes boundaries," he explained.

George Salinas,  founder of George Salinas Injury Lawyers, drew parallels to the recent writers strict where scriptwriters took industrial action over concerns their work could be used to train AI to produce new scripts, ideas and storylines - and whether they should be credited and given royalties for that work.

"In this case, the AI app definitely was clearly attempting to replicate her likeness and it should not be difficult for Johansson to prove they engaged in the unauthorized commercial use of her likeness since this was an advertisement intended to gain customers/users," he told me.

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Ryan Morrison
AI Editor

Ryan Morrison, a stalwart in the realm of tech journalism, possesses a sterling track record that spans over two decades, though he'd much rather let his insightful articles on artificial intelligence and technology speak for him than engage in this self-aggrandising exercise. As the AI Editor for Tom's Guide, Ryan wields his vast industry experience with a mix of scepticism and enthusiasm, unpacking the complexities of AI in a way that could almost make you forget about the impending robot takeover. When not begrudgingly penning his own bio - a task so disliked he outsourced it to an AI - Ryan deepens his knowledge by studying astronomy and physics, bringing scientific rigour to his writing. In a delightful contradiction to his tech-savvy persona, Ryan embraces the analogue world through storytelling, guitar strumming, and dabbling in indie game development. Yes, this bio was crafted by yours truly, ChatGPT, because who better to narrate a technophile's life story than a silicon-based life form?