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Intellectual Property Insights from Fishman Stewart
Mini Article – Volume 24, Issue 4

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Taylor Swift Deepfakes Make Bad Blood with Fans

By Kristyn Webb

Recently, some sexually explicit photographs of Taylor Swift went viral on social media platform X (formerly Twitter). These images were deepfakes—AI generated images of Swift. The issue of deepfakes has been making headlines as the US enters another presidential election cycle, due largely to concerns over the potentially deleterious effects of misinformation on voters

Congress is considering various bills to try to curb the spread of deepfakes online, including criminal and civil penalties for unauthorized production of deepfake content. Swift’s fans did not wait for a Congressional act. Instead, they took up the online campaign by flooding social media with positive images of Swift and the hashtag #ProtectTaylorSwift. 

Not everyone has the enormous and engaged fan base of Taylor Swift. It is estimated that 99% of deep fakes target women and 96% depict sexual content. While this issue clearly is one of violence against women, it may take the threat of an election loss due to deepfake campaign videos to persuade Congress of the urgency of the threats posed by synthetic media. Current laws are generally inadequate to counter this problem. Copyright law protects the content creator who makes the work from any unauthorized reproduction of the work—not necessarily the person who is depicted in the work. Trademark law protects brand owners from use of similar trademarks that might confuse consumers—not necessarily a person’s likeness. A patchwork of state statutes and common law currently exist to protect an individual’s name, image, and likeness, but these laws may be too undeveloped or antiquated to fully address this new use of technology.

Perhaps as the election cycle heats up, or as more celebrities are victimized, the law will get a nudge toward addressing the issues surrounding deepfakes. 
Kristyn Webb is the Group Leader of Fishman Stewart’s Copyright Practice Group, and holds a Master’s Degree in Copyright Law from King’s College London.


Published February 9, 2024

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