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The idea of ‘Digital Humans’ might sound like a stretch, but it’s more commonplace than you might think in this quickly evolving market where the race is on to merge our real and digital lives.  

A digital human is an avatar that has the same mannerisms of a real human. They look and act like one, so much to the point that you can’t distinguish animation from the real thing. It’s where Deep Fakes come from but it’s also a new frontier of innovation for the industry of virtual and augmented reality.  

At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last March, Cubic Motion introduced the world to Siren; a digital human with unsettling realism. With how quickly technology is moving, it’s expected that every person could have access to technology to create their own digital doubles from their own home.  

Mocap of Siren, GDC 2019

While this might be hard to believe for the general population, it’s commonplace in the video game and motion picture industry; Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Mariah Carey in Game of War. These are just a few examples of celebrities recreating themselves in CGI to continue raking in more dough.

But do these people own their rights to their bodies any longer? Would we? 

A world-renowned Visual Effects studio, Digital Domain, has even gone so far as to “digitally preserve” actors’ likeness to utilize them in the future. This would give families the ability to license a celebrity’s image to studios after their death.

Digital Domain creates “Virtual Tupac” honoring late Tupac Shakur, Coachella 2012

And while the ability to monetize your likeness after death might sound enticing to some, what happens when these video game publishers abuse their legal agreements and use the artist’s likeness without their permission?

What happens when hackers steal that information and monetize your likeness without your permission?  

Right now we have people providing their likeness to video game publishers, digital advertising agencies, and motion picture studios, but the people providing their likeness have very limited control over it whatsoever.

And an ordinary man or woman has no agency to understand complex terms that they might be consenting to. Let’s face it, technology is outpacing the ability of the law to catch up, leaving consumers in the dark when it comes to understanding what their rights are and how to protect themselves.   

What happens if those companies get hacked?

There’s no way for the person that licenses their likeness to protect it from deep fakes being created or their likeness being licensed in ways they didn’t authorize.  

We’re already seeing this happening with our favorite games; the band members of No Doubt, among many other artists, sued Activision for misusing their likenesses in Band Hero and Guitar Hero. Likewise, the NFL allowed Electronic Arts to use retired players’ likenesses without compensating the players.  

Now Amazon is taking things one step further, by taking advantage of any person willing to scan their body for “research” and to “learn about diversity among body shapes”.  

Normal people willing to try something new for $25 are the ones that don’t have the means to fight a suit like No Doubt, Maroon 5, or NFL players.

People with the kind of legal literacy required to understand these contracts or the kind of money needed to have them reviewed by counsel have a lot more agency than someone who would sell their likeness for the price of two Avengers Endgame tickets…standard edition and not 3D nonetheless.  

So when Amazon misappropriates a woman’s 3D body scan for online retail use, or they end up getting hacked, how is that person going to afford to fight, let alone even understand or know that their digital likeness is being “misappropriated” or that their “right of publicity” is being violated.

What if their likeness is sold to a third party just like any other data Internet companies acquire and sell?

In the future, is there going to be some sort of Kafkaesque hotline for people to report their misappropriated identities to?

If we don’t have a way to protect and control our digital likeness, then what is the world coming to?  

This Amazon article hit home because I just spoke with Dale Noelle, founder of TRUE Model Management, and one of the fashion industry’s most successful and sought-after FIT models.

Every major retailer requests Dale’s models as professional fit consultants, as they provide useful guidelines to increase efficiency during the product discovery and development of apparel.  

When speaking with Dale around this recent announcement, I asked, “How do you think that companies should treat your likeness and are you worried about them making good on that promise?” 

Dale said,

“Body scan images and other digital likenesses should be treated and protected in the same way that photographic images are — under intellectual property regulations. All usage agreements must be transparent and include licensing requirements (similar to those used by streaming music services) to track usage, pay royalties, and compensate the owner of the intellectual property — in this case, the person whose body is scanned.”  

Currently, if models would like to license their 3D scans they have VERY limited control over their digital likeness via legal agreements, which we all know is horse sh**.  

If models can’t revoke access to their own 3D scans because retailers are misusing them or not paying them what they deserve, then what recourse does any other person have?  

Our company, PolyPort, is taking steps to ensure that people’s IP rights, like Dale Noelle and you, are protected by developing a solution that enables them to track, control, and protect their 3D models wherever they go in life for as long as they live – because it’s your body and you should own it.  

For all the talk of the digital economy empowering people, there is a dark side.

Without intention, some companies can exploit the very people they are also empowering. Attackers target those opportunities to purposely exploit people.

And in the end, people need to be empowered to securely and safely work in this new digital economy. Companies should embrace these opportunities and work with companies like PolyPort to ensure that our bodies – albeit digital bodies – are protected.