Date of Award
Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD)
Geoffrey R. Scott
Immorality is a concept recognized in literature and human aspirations but not in the law. Human beings or "natural persons" under the law hold limited rights and are often transformed into "property" after death. As a result, rights and liabilities extinguish at death and are transferred to the next-of-kin through testamentary or intestate succession. The dead in most jurisdictions are not right holders and the legal protections natural persons enjoy are eliminated. It's in this vacuum where technology drastically changes the playing field.
Hollywood and the entertainment industry have adopted different types of new-age technology to give us realistic postmortem performances by beloved actors and musicians who have now left the physical world but have left a lasting legacy behind them. Audiences were shocked and amazed to see the now deceased Carrie Fisher reprise her role as Princess Leia in the stand alone Star Wars movie Rogue One, in a much younger version of herself, superimposed onto a Norwegian actress to give audiences the feel of being in a time machine, transported back to the year 1977 of the New Hope. Another example is that of deceased actor Paul Walker's face superimposed onto hos brother using 350 Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) shots in order to complete the filming of Fast and the Furious 7 after his sudden tragic car accident. While those renditions were limited to the big screen, but we not see holograms also used to "resurrect" dead musicians like Tupac or Michael Jackson, or even animated and fictional characters such as Homer Simpson. And perhaps notably, across the globe in India, the current Prime Minister Narenda Modi made use of these holograms politically, by using the technology to deliver campaign speeches to voters across 90 rallies during an election season. This is all possible through the use of CGI, special effects, and post production editing and holographic technologies.
While the entertainment industry has demonstrated its interest in postmortem technologies in the most prominent ways for the public to see, private research by corporations are showing more promising results in terms of true immortality. Postmortem "presence" by a celebrity can be done by merely producing a realistic rendition through clever mediums like holograms or CGI for audience to see. While these techniques raise their own set of unique legal issues, it is not true postmortem "existence" as the digital copy has no sense of autonomy or sentience. The main hurdle is that the postmortem rendition has no "brain function" and can be viewed merely as a performance in a new medium. However, nuanced aspects of the human mind can be recreated now with the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Personal Data. Research around the world promises the growth of virtual humans who can speak, hear, touch and be touched, exhibit behavior and think just as we do. Whole Brain Emulation ("WBE" or also colloquially known as a "mind-uploading or mind-filling") offers an interesting avenue to postmortem existence by using large data-sets of personal information and a medium for communication with the living.
The technological advances mentioned above shows us that the dead can establish a presence and existence in our modern physical world. The law unfortunately hasn't caught up to this fact in many aspects. After death, a natural person is transformed into property and loses a right to privacy, the right to contract, and the right to hold and alienate property themselves. Depending on the jurisdiction the dead can be the rights-holder or a mere conduit for the beneficiary estate. Technologies like holograms or CGI present legal issues related to the talents, likeness, mannerisms, voice, image, and personality of a deceased performer by building on their previously established legacy without the celebrity's presence or artistic autonomy in the choice of performance. This translates into issues related to copyright law, personality rights (or the "Right of Publicity" as known in the US), and possibly trademark law. While issues related to the talent and personality of an artist will likely around the entertainment industry, WBE and other technological means for postmortem existence will go into aspects of privacy, personal data and copyright law.
Menon, Pranav, "Technology Immorality and Its Legal Issues" (2020). SJD Dissertations. 19.