Feb 27, 2024 - News

Nashville ViNIL startup tracks deepfake content

Illustration of a flashlight illuminating binary code in red

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

ViNIL, a Nashville-based tech startup aiming to address the problem of deepfakes, will officially launch at the SXSW festival in Austin next month.

Why it matters: ViNIL's platform allows musicians and other celebrities to certify that artificial intelligence-generated content that pops up on the internet is created with their permission.

The intrigue: President Biden singing a rendition of "Baby Shark," Tom Hanks pitching a dental insurance plan and Lainey Wilson promoting weight loss gummies are a few examples of unauthorized deepfake content.

  • Last month, Gov. Bill Lee introduced legislation to protect musicians from the misuse of their voices. Tennessee would be the first state to pass such a measure.
  • Congress has also been debating legislation to provide musicians with similar protections.

How it works: ViNIL, which stands for Voice, Identity, Name, Image and Likeness, is the brainchild of Nashville songwriter and entrepreneur Charles Alexander, entertainment industry attorney Jeremy Brook and software architect Sada Garba.

  • The platform places a special tag called a cryptographic certificate of authenticity on digital content. This assures advertisers, corporations and celebrities that the AI-generated content is authorized.

What they're saying: Alexander says ViNIL has been in the works for close to a year, well before the debate about AI regulations reached a fever pitch. Alexander pictures companies like artists, labels, artist management firms and branding agencies as likely partners. The team also believes there are broader applications beyond the music industry.

  • Alexander says creators can use it to detect deepfake content and track authorized AI content. He points to singer-songwriter Grimes making her voice available for other musicians to use via AI-generated songs as an example of artists embracing AI.
  • "We are faced with the possibility that our ability to control and consent to what happens with the elements that define us is very likely compromised," Alexander says. "We built ViNIL to mitigate that threat."

What's next: ViNIL is hosting a showcase on March 12 at SXSW to unveil its product to the broader music industry.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that ViNIL has been in the works for close to a year, not over a year.

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