The Scoop: The battle over Scarlett Johansson’s voice

Plus: Topps makes a baseball card of fan hit with ball; E.l.f. boosts marketing spend for simple reason.

There's a battle over Scarlett Johansson's voice.

The 2013 film “Her” was ahead of its time. It features a charismatic AI assistant, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who enters into an unconventional relationship with Joaquin Phoenix.

It’s perhaps not surprising that OpenAI head Sam Altman thought of Johansson’s performance when he began to develop new, more natural-sounding AI voices. The Wall Street Journal reports that Altman approached Johansson’s agent last year to ask if she’d work with OpenAI on a project. When she declined, he tried again earlier this month, though with no results.

Then OpenAI rolled out “Sky,” a new, more expressive AI voice. And many immediately noted that it bore a resemblance to Johansson’s. Listen for yourself in this video.

Altman didn’t help matters when he posted a single word to X: “her.”



Johansson said in a statement that some of her closest friends and family thought she had been involved in the AI voice. Others assumed that the assistant had been trained on Johansson’s voice to achieve a similar sound.

It all ended in legal letters sent to OpenAI and the Sky voice’s removal.

OpenAI denies that it trained on Johansson’s voice and says Sky was created by a voice actor.

Why it matters: This isn’t a public relations issue for the general public, per se, many of whom would likely have loved to have a ScarJo assistant. But it can certainly serve as a huge wedge between OpenAI and creatives, who are already leery of the technology.

OpenAI faces lawsuits from a group of authors including George R. R. Martin and Jodi Picoult, a separate lawsuit involving comedian Sarah Silverman, and from multiple journalistic outlets, including the New York Times. Outside of OpenAI, the use of artificial intelligence to control the likenesses of actors became a major sticking point in last year’s Hollywood strikes.

This is an audience that was already deeply skeptical and even afraid of the effect AI could have on their careers and their art. And then OpenAI, after courting Johansson in private, went ahead with an AI that did bear similarities to her voice – and even publicly nodded to those similarities in Altman’s ill-advised post.

It went after an actor rich and famous enough to strike back with legal action. Johansson went toe-to-toe in court with her employer, Disney, over pay and managed to strike a deal even with the Mouse’s famously aggressive lawyers. And now the dispute is front-page news all round the world.

OpenAI has only deepened suspicions between tech and creatives. While it’s beginning to strike some agreements to legally use copyrighted material, including a $250 million partnership with News Corp, which gives it access to the Wall Street Journal, among others. But it will need creatives of all stripes. And this ham-fisted move will make those partnerships far harder.

Editor’s Top Reads:

  • Liz McGuire got smacked in the head with a foul ball at a Toronto Blue Jays game, leaving behind a truly impressive bump. Thankfully, she says medical tests indicate she’ll be fine, but a picture of her with the gnarly protrusion went viral. Topps jumped on the opportunity and produced 110 baseball cards of the image (the ball was traveling 110 miles per hour when it hit her), bearing the caption “Fan wears 110MPH foul ball like a champ.” It was a simple, likely inexpensive PR stunt that catapulted Topps to a New York Times headline. A great example of quickly jumping on a viral trend in a way that gets earned media as well.
  • The Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against Live Nation Entertainment, which also owns Ticketmaster. They claim that the joint ownership of both the ticketing software and hundreds of major venues around the country has led to monopolistic behavior, including higher prices and reduced competition. Ticketmaster hit back, saying the suit won’t actually address the root causes of high ticket prices, which include demand, high production costs and scalping. They also blamed the Biden administration for turning “over antitrust enforcement to a populist urge that simply rejects how antitrust law works.” They’re right that the move is popular: Previous polls indicated 60% of Americans support breaking up Ticketmaster. While that shouldn’t factor into the court case, it’s true that Ticketmaster has done little to endear itself to fans because it simply hasn’t had to. If you want to see your favorite artists, you’ve got to pay the master.
  • Discount beauty brand e.l.f. announced it will up its marketing spend to 25% of net sales in fiscal 2024 for a simple reason: “Our marketing investment is working,” Chief Marketing Officer Kory Marchisotto told the Wall Street Journal. E.l.f. has made incremental increases in their spend, rising from just 7% in 2019. They’ve put in place rigorous measurements to understand how that spend is reaching new audiences and seen stellar results as they grew from fairly homegrown marketing to a Super Bowl ad this year. It’s a strong case study of what can happen with smart marketing, accountable measurement and continued investment.

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on or LinkedIn.


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