Hollywood Agency Partners With Tech Start-up Over A.I. Protection

The talent agency WME announced a partnership with the technology firm Vermillio on Tuesday that it hopes will protect its clients from having their likenesses misused through artificial intelligence technology.

Vermillio has created a platform, Trace ID, that could insulate WME clients from thefts of their likeness and intellectual property by using A.I. technology to track images. The partnership will also look for ways to use the technology to allow clients to monetize their likeness and image themselves.

The use of A.I. and how to protect these assets was a major point of contention in last year’s actors strike. Even after a deal with SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, was ratified, some performers remained dissatisfied with the A.I. protections. The contract, for instance, does not prohibit studios from populating screens with “synthetic fakes,” which can be created through A.I. by melding recognizable features from real actors to fabricate a character.

A.I.-generated images also proliferate online, like the fake, sexually explicit images of Taylor Swift that appeared online last week.

WME said its primary concern was protecting its clients.

“We have been at this for a while to try and tackle this issue so that our clients have protections in place to at least start to address what is clearly a rampant issue,” said Chris Jacquemin, WME’s head of digital strategies.

Deepfakes involving well-known actors and entertainers have been an issue for years. The relatively recent emergence of more sophisticated A.I., however, has exacerbated the problem. This month, a fake ad for the cookware maker Le Creuset appeared on Facebook. It featured what purported to be Ms. Swift offering free cookware in exchange for users’ personal information. Neither Ms. Swift nor Le Creuset was involved in the promotion.

“You have no real ability to stop it other than manually stumbling across it,” Mr. Jacquemin said of that type of scam. “Vermillio starts to automate that process.”

WME’s clients will now give their identifying digital data to Vermillio to be recorded and protected on the blockchain. Vermillio said it would then be able to track and authenticate images of the clients that appear online. Those images could then either be removed, or the clients could decide to ask for payment. Vermillio would get a share of that revenue.

WME and Vermillio said the partnership could also help compensate performers if studios wanted, for instance, to use A.I. to have someone’s voice translate content into other languages.

Dan Neely, the entrepreneur behind Vermillio, said: “With this authenticity, talent can provide fans the novel entertainment experiences they want while protecting and empowering themselves.”


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