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How the ELVIS Act Is Protecting Actors Against AI

Apr 05, 2024
How the ELVIS Act Is Protecting Actors Against AI

A Honky-Tonk Tale

If “Isn’t Elvis dead?” was the first thing that came to mind when you heard about Tennessee’s new AI law, you’re not alone. Officially the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act, ELVIS is intended to protect people’s name, voice, image and likeness from being deepfaked and cloned. But how could artificial intelligence (AI) impact you? A whole heck of a lot, if you’re a voice actor.

Let’s get into what the ELVIS Act does (and doesn’t do) to protect voice actors like you against misuse by generative AI.

Origins of the ELVIS Act

Man in jacket and jeans crossing Nashville street with guitar, honky-tonks in background


It should come as no surprise that this law was born in Nashville, aka “Music City.” Long considered the capital of country music, Nashville has a $15-billion dollar recording industry, so when AI music generators started popping up, people in the industry started getting concerned that this new technology, if left unchecked, could start chewing away at hard-working musicians’ livelihoods.

Why Elvis? Back in 1984, Elvis Presley successfully lobbied the state legislature to pass the Personal Rights Protection Act of 1984, a “right of publicity” law that would protect his intellectual property after his death. To this day, Tennessee has one of the strongest right-of-publicity laws in the nation protecting against the unauthorized use of a person’s name, image and likeness for commercial purposes. 

The big problem that folks like Garret noticed? There was no mention in Tennesee’s right of publicity law protecting against the exploitation of a person’s “voice,” and this was becoming a big problem with the development of AI. 

As AI-powered music generators began churning out music based on chart-topping artists, record labels asked music streaming services to block AI from accessing their catalogues. But it was a deepfake TikTok video with cloned vocals from both Drake and the Weeknd that spurred industry experts to start pushing for real legislation. Megastar Drake called itthe last straw,and Memphis-based entrepreneur Gebre Waddell got inspired to lead the charge for protections against AI.

In January, thanks in large part to Garrett’s efforts and the support of local and national music and entertainment groups, Bill Lee, together with State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson and House Majority Leader William Lambert, introduced legislation that would eventually become the ELVIS Act. In honor of the two Memphians with a passion for intellectual property–Presley and Garrett– the bill earned its current name.

What Is Generative AI? 

In layman's terms, Generative AI (GenAI) is any type of software that uses artificial intelligence to study existing content and then create new content similar to what it has studied. For narration, acting, and singing, this means that a software program can study your voice; learn your timbre, patterns of speech and emotions intonation; and create new audio recordings based on your individual sound.

When people say AI cloned someone’s voice, that’s what they’re referring to. The software doesn’t decide on its own what to create, but is “prompted” by a human user. The result is what some in the industry call a “synthetic performer.” Why should some data-entry prompter get paid instead of you? 

This new generation of AI can be very convincing, and can be exploited by unscrupulous businesses to save money at the expense of hard-working, living voice artists. 

Support For Protections Against AI

Once Gebre Waddell shared his first draft with friends and industry colleagues, it didn’t take long before big names and organizations joined the bandwagon. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) soon submitted its own draft to lawmakers, and many more local and national orgs added their voices to the campaign. These include: 

  • The Recording Academy (GRAMMYs)
  • American Association of Independent Music (A2IM)
  • Artist Rights Alliance
  • Black Music Action Coalition
  • Music Artists Coalition
  • Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI)
  • Nashville Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA)
  • Songwriters of North American (SONA)

Nationwide, advocacy groups are asking congressional leaders to enact federal legislation to protect against unauthorized use of people’s voices and likenesses, but not everyone is optimistic. One reason some groups are discouraged are the deep pockets opposing legislation.

Opposition To The Bill

In public hearings of the Tennessee State Legislature, the Motion Picture Association claimed that the bill “risks interference with our members’ ability to portray real people and events.” Also in opposition to the bill were OpenAI, Google, and Amazon, who argued that the bill was too broad and could have unintended consequences.

Legitimate Concerns

A common concern expressed by the public is that there were no exceptions for “newsworthy” images or content that provides a “public interest.” These are common for intellectual property protections, but were missing from the original bill. The basic concern was that the bill was too vague and could harm people that it wasn’t intended to punish, such as people making parodies, documentaries, or reporting the news. Some experts even expressed concern for the well-being of cover bands.

Lawmakers responded to these concerns by adding exceptions for Fair Use and First Amendment protections. 

How The ELVIS Act Protects Voice Artists Against AI

Gov. Bill Lee signs ELVIS Act at Robert’s Western World honky-tonk


Passed into law on March 21, 2024 at none other than the famous honky-tonk Robert’s Western World (quite possibly the most Nashville thing we’ve heard all year), the ELVIS Act now protects your voice from being used without your permission. The new law establishes personal liability for individuals and organizations who make AI and related technologies available within the state of Tennessee: the use of an artist’s voice without their consent can now be punished as a Class-A misdemeanour, leading to jail time and/or monetary fines for actual damages

What does this mean for you, the voice artist? Given that Tennessee has a multibillion-dollar music industry, it poses real ramifications nationwide for businesses whose software and services are accessible by residents of Tennessee. 

What The ELVIS Act Doesn’t Do

Ultimately, the ELVIS Act is still a state law which does not create any federal right of publicity protections for voice artists and other creatives against exploitation by AI. That said, it has energized industry leaders and national organizations to push Congress to act on creating a federal “right of publicity.  So what can you do in the meantime? 

How To Protect Your Voice

Don’t give them the opportunity to exploit your instrument: DO check your contract. Always read the fine print of every agreement to ensure that there are no clauses authorizing the uncompensated use of your voice with Generative AI. 

As GenAI continues to develop, you may encounter companies that try to get you to sign away your voice for little-to-no compensation. Sadly, this isn’t theoretical: actors have received contracts like these already and you need to be prepared for the possibility that it could become more common in the voice-over industry. If producers have permission to train GenAI with your voice, they’ll have no incentive to pay you for additional content. 

You don’t want to blindly sign a contract only to find out later that you signed away your voice in perpetuity without compensation—so always, always, always read your contracts and never sign an agreement that signs away your voice for free. 

At A VO’s Journey, along with our partner voice over casting website, Academy Voices, we remain committed to human-only productions. In a rapidly evolving market, there’s a very real possibility that voice-over artists will have to learn to live with some amount of Generative AI, but only for fair compensation and only with your permission.

If you receive an offer in which a company wishes to use Generative AI to use your voice to add new voice-over content or alter existing voice-over content, the bare minimum that you should demand in return is fair compensation. Beyond that, it’s up to you whether to accept or turn down the contract–especially if the producer/buyer refuses to offer fair compensation–and the more artists who defend their interests, the more companies will be forced to stick to human talent.

All Human, All The Time

Nothing beats the authenticity and nuance of the human voice. Artificial Intelligence is changing the landscape of voice-over work, but computers can only reproduce what’s already been done. Thanks to the versatility, the nuance, and the individuality of human beings, there will always be a firm place for living, breathing human talent. 

With the right tools at your disposal, you can prove that you’re not only indispensable, but a desirable resource for clients.

If you've found this article helpful and are passionate about elevating your voice-over career, check out A VO’s Journey for more insights, tips, and professional guidance. Your journey toward impeccable sound quality has just begun, and A VO’s Journey is here to help you.