With the proliferation of AI-generated images and videos, I was wondering what rights I have to my image and voice. Can anyone generate and use my likeness without my permission?


Great question! As we discussed in AI and Intellectual Property, Jewish law extensively discusses intellectual property and copyrights. But what about ownership of our bodies?

Do We Own Our Bodies?

Interestingly, from a Torah perspective, while we generally have ownership over our physical property, the same cannot be said regarding our own bodies.

According to Jewish law, your life and your body are not your own to treat as you wish. For instance, it’s forbidden to strike another person even with his consent, because individuals do not have the authority over their bodies to allow them to be struck, shamed or subjected to any pain.1

The Rebbe explains2 that our bodies are not our personal property but are on loan from G‑d to fulfill our mission in this world. Our body is home to our soul, and a sacred vehicle through which mitzvahs can be performed. Thus, we are not entitled to mutilate our bodies in any way.3 (This extends to prohibitions on self-mutilation and even some forms of cosmetic surgery. See Is Cosmetic Surgery Permissible According to Jewish Law?)

Ultimately, Rabbi David ibn Zimra, known as the Radbaz, concluded that the fact that we do not own our bodies is a “decree” from the Creator of the world, which cannot be questioned.4

How Your Body Is Different From Intellectual Property

Accordingly, even if you were to argue that you own your intellectual output, you would have a much harder time making the same argument regarding your voice or likeness, which we’ve just established does not belong to you.

Now, you might argue that you have the innate right to your likeness, even if you don’t “own” it. However, it’s crucial to understand that Torah law is not based upon rights (as are the laws of many Western countries). Rather, it’s built upon the notion of obligations and responsibilities.

Thus, the question is if others have the responsibility to take care not to use your likeness. Let’s now look at which responsibilities may prevent a person from usurping your likeness.

Potential Reasons to Prohibit

One such issue is geneivat da’at, or “stealing another person’s thoughts,” which involves deceiving or tricking someone. A classic example given in the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law is that one may not open casks of wine, ostensibly for his guests, if he must anyway open them for sale, so as not to deceive his guests into thinking that the casks were opened in their honor.5

Geneivat da’at is considered a severe form of theft, even if nothing tangible is taken.6 In the context of AI-generated likenesses, using someone's image without their consent could be seen as deceptive toward the viewers, thus falling under this prohibition. However, depending on the specifics, one may not be monetarily liable.

Theft vs Damages

While using someone's likeness might not constitute theft in the traditional sense, it could still cause damage or embarrassment, making the user liable for those harms. There are also certain instances where one may be liable simply for preventing the other person from turning a profit.

Following the Law

The Talmud states that dina d’malchuta dina,” “the law of the land is the law.”7 This principle generally obligates one to adhere to any “just” civil laws of the land, especially concerning monetary issues, provided they don’t contradict Torah laws.8 Therefore, if there are specific laws about using someone’s image or voice, Jewish law would require adherence to those laws.