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Experts Slam Tennessee's New Law Banning AI Impersonations

Tennessee's governor has signed into law staunch protections against AI fakes — but there's cause for concern that its language could be used to criminalize non-AI behavior.

In a Nashville honky tonk, TN's Governor Bill Lee enacted the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security Act — or ELVIS Act, in an apparent reference to the iconic Tennessee singer who's being resurrected as an AI — which the state is calling a "first-of-its-kind" legislation in a press release touting the newly-enshrined law that seeks civil penalties for nonconsensual AI forgeries.

Introduced in January amid growing concerns about AI deepfakes, the ELVIS Act's rapid legal enshrinement by Tennessee's governor — who, it should be noted, has also signed multiple anti-LGBTQ bills, including a drag ban, into law — expands upon Tennesse's existing publicity rights law to ban cloning or otherwise faking the likeness or voice of any individual in the state.

Citing a half-dozen recent headline-grabbing examples of generative AI tech being used without consent, the new law outlines civil penalties, including fines of $50,000 per instance of unauthorized "distribution, transmission, or other making available of a personalized cloning service."

While it does allow for certain constitutional exceptions, critics of the bipartisan effort are concerned that it could be twisted or otherwise infringe upon individual or studio rights.

"It would absolutely chill the exercise of First Amendment-protected speech, making movies and TV shows based on real people and events," Ben Sheffner, an attorney for the Motion Picture Association (MPA), told WATE, a Nashville ABC affiliate, earlier this year.

Vanderbilt copyright and entertainment law professor Joseph Fishman also seemed concerned about the law's language in an interview for that same WATE piece.

"It would also threaten liability for, say, a Johnny Cash tribute band that you would hear anywhere around Nashville," the lawyer said. "No one is being deceived by a tribute band. No one thinks we need a new law to regulate tribute bands. But this bill, I think, unwittingly would."

In a post on X-formerly-Twitter and subsequent interviews, internet law and privacy expert Carl Szabo suggested that the broadness of the law's language could have widespread consequences.

"Imagine a government outlawing auto-color correction on a picture you took at a concert," Czabo, the vice president and general counsel of the online free speech firm NetChoice, wrote in a lengthy X post. "While that may sound absurd, the Tennessee legislature is currently considering a bill that would do just that — the so-called Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act."

The MPA, which has notably campaigned against other AI regulations in recent months, told Deadline when the bill was first introduced that although its members are indeed concerned about unauthorized digital fakes, laws like the ELVIS Act could confer some unintended consequences — including for those who choose to clone their voices or likenesses with AI.

"Any legislation," the studio trade association told the magazine, "must protect the ability of the MPA's members and other creators to use digital replicas in contexts that are fully protected by the First Amendment."

The MPA cited new partnerships undertaken by the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG-AFTRA), which initially supported the bill, that seeks to protect actors' ability to control any creation of "digital replicas," which involves the AI cloning of their voices and likenesses. In a statement emailed to Futurism, SAG expressed enthusiasm about the bill's passage and did not cite any concerns with its language on the part of the guild.

Historically, attempts at digital regulation have been hit both with concerns about censorship and, unfortunately, been difficult to enforce. It seems that the ELVIS Act may be subject to both.

More on deepfakes: Middle Schoolers Arrested for Making AI Nudes of Classmates