Bruce Willis denies selling rights to his face to Russian deepfake company

A deepfake of Bruce Willis sparked widespread confusion about AI technology and legal rights online – prompting the retired actor’s agent to confirm that Willis did not sell the rights to his digital likeness.

According to Reuters, a Russian firm called Deepcake created a realistic AI-generated image of Bruce Willis in a commercial for Megafon, a Russian telecoms company, in 2021. Deepcake imposed Willis’s face onto a Russian actor’s head by using neural network technology – a year before the actor retired.

Rumors recently emerged that Willis “sold” his likeness to the company to continue acting amid his aphasia diagnosis. Though Willis did authorize the deepfake, his representatives confirmed that he did not “sell the rights” to his face.

“Please know that Bruce has no partnership or agreement with this Deepcake company,” Willis’s agent said in a statement to the BBC.

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The hyper-realistic image of Bruce Willis is actually a deepfake created by a Russian company using artificial neural networks. 

The hyper-realistic image of Bruce Willis is actually a deepfake created by a Russian company using artificial neural networks. 
(Deepcake via Reuters)

Rumors about Willis “acting” through deepfakes offered some readers a glimpse into the potential that AI technology could provide. After Willis announced he would be ‘stepping away’ away from acting due to his aphasia diagnosis, journalists speculated that the deepfake could allow Willis to “act” in films without actually acting.

But a representative for Deepcake disputed the idea that one could even sell the rights to their likeness.

“The wording about rights is wrong… Bruce couldn’t sell anyone any rights, they are his by default,” the spokesperson said to the BBC, adding that Willis has simply given “his consent (and a lot of materials) to make his Digital Twin.”

According to Deepcake’s website, Willis allegedly spoke highly on the company’s AI work as an opportunity to “go back in time.”

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Bruce Willis attends the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis at Hollywood Palladium on July 14, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. 

Bruce Willis attends the Comedy Central Roast of Bruce Willis at Hollywood Palladium on July 14, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. 
(Rich Fury/Getty Images)

“With the advent of the modern technology, I could communicate, work and participate in filming, even being on another continent,” Willis supposedly said, according to Deepcake.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to go back in time. The neural network was trained on content of ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Fifth Element,’ so my character is similar to the images of that time,” the statement explained.

The 67-year-old’s family announced his aphasia diagnosis, which impairs his cognitive abilities and makes him unable to act, earlier this summer.

Bruce Willis arrives for the National Board of Review gala in the Manhattan borough of New York January 6, 2015.

Bruce Willis arrives for the National Board of Review gala in the Manhattan borough of New York January 6, 2015.
(Reuters)

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“We wanted to share that our beloved Bruce has been experiencing some health issues and has recently been diagnosed with aphasia, which is impacting his cognitive abilities,” the family statement read. “As a result of this and with much consideration, Bruce is stepping away from the career that has meant so much to him.”

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