Back from the Dead: CGI and Hollywood’s Copyright Problem

You would think that legally, we own the right to our bodies. Not in the physical sense of owning our bodies, but the right to our likeness. This is currently perhaps a legal rather than aphilosophical question, especially when looking at how far CGI has come in the past few decades. After all, we are talking about copyright and a person’s image, a physical characteristic that we in many ways have no control over. 

 Usually, even if you are in a photo, the person who takes it owns it. This has its own problems, but more importantly you should know that you do not own the copyright to your own body. As strange as it sounds, it’s the truth. There is a way tocopyright your own body, but it’s very invasive and complex. This is a modern concern, as social media and new technologies have ensured that we have an extreme lack of privacy in our lives. This is not how it should be though. We should be able to control what happens to images of us. Copyright law is more complicated than this, and although we usually can’t consent to how an image is being used once the rights have been signed away, using an image of a personafter their death for commercial purposes seems like it’s taking advantage of them.


Everyone signs a contract when they start a job – it‘s whatprotects you. It’s normal, nothing to it. For the original Star Wars, Carrie Fisher ended up signing away her merchandising rights – probably the best example of how much studios are aware of how an actor‘s likeness as a particular character is worth. But with a popular franchise like Star Wars, whichcontains so many recognisable characters, the studio is going to start running into the problem of aging casts and deaths, which makes expanding the universe harder. This problem can be fixed with CGI – actors can come back from the dead and look younger. In Rogue One, CGI was used to put Carrie Fischer’s younger face on the body of a different actress. From a technological point of view it’s quite amazing, but you have to feel a little sorry for the actress who got a role in a big franchise, only to have a different face CGI’d onto her. 


But then what’s the point? What’s the point of paying actors when you can just get them to sign something that says that you can use their image forever? Why not just CGI everything? Eventually it’s going to be cheaper than paying people, so surely it’s the most reasonable solution. Maybe someday that will happen, but it seems like a shame that you lose the humanity of the performance. CGI may be a way of keeping someone immortal, but at what cost? 


Using CGI posthumously seems like such a violation though. Fine, make Samuel L. Jackson look younger for Captain Marvel, that’s not so bad, and he’s around to consent to it. But using someone’s face after their death just so that a big studio can make money off of it seems disrespectful towards the deceased. Since they can’t consent to it themselves, it is probably the family that has to. But it does seem like they are being taken advantage of. At some point, perhaps it will become completely normal and expected that you willinevitably be recreated with CGI. It seems like a gross invasion of privacy, and the dead deserve more respect. There is also the question of family consent – if the family of the deceased individual consents on their behalf, then surely there is no problem. True, the family would probably know the individual’s wishes best, but that may not always be the case. They might have their own motivations for agreeing to their loved one’s image being used, and these may not always be honourable. 


Hollywood has always changed and adapted with the times. There have been so many great technological advances since moving pictures were first a thing. It’s only natural for CGI recreations to be the next big technological development, but it does seem insensitive to take advantage of people who can’t consent themselves. 


[Katerina Schwartz  she/her @katpschwartz]

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