Every year, at the VO Atlanta conference, a new “Unicorn” is crowned.
A Unicorn is someone who has distinguished him- or herself in the voice over community by showing exemplary character, and who is a true “Mensch” to their colleagues. A Mensch is a Yiddish way of describing a good person, a person of integrity; someone people admire and wish to emulate.
This year, Canadian voice talent Bev Standing was chosen by her peers. Bev is the daughter of an advertising executive. She spent many hours in TV studios as well as critiquing commercials at home with her Dad. She was also a production assistant in Radio Drama at CBC. In addition, she has nine years of marketing under her belt.
Bev has done voice over projects for Kraft, Revlon, Clarins, The Tampa Bay Times, Hellman’s, The National Diamond Store, Olay, Kellogg, Water Babies, D-Drops, Jamesons, and many more. You can also hear her voice on TV and/or radio ads, iPad applications, YouTube videos, e-Learning, training, medical narration, on-hold messaging, corporate presentations, awards intros… and until recently, on the social platform TikTok.
MAKING INTERNATIONAL NEWS
Last year, Bev made the news because she discovered that her voice was used by TikTok in text-to-speech applications without her permission. She never worked for TikTok, and TikTok never paid her a penny. (click here to read the full story)
TikTok users could make Bev say anything they wanted her to say. Bev says she felt violated. She told the BBC:
“When I realized you could get me to say anything you want… that upset me.
I’m certainly hoping it doesn’t affect my business in a negative way.
Clients may stop hiring me because they recognize that voice.”
Bev hired lawyer, producer, and (voice) actor Robert Sciglimpaglia, to take TikTok to court. The lawsuit alleged that Bev’s voice was being used in thousands of viral videos containing “foul and offensive language” causing “irreparable harm” to her reputation.
On September 29th 2021, The Verge broke the news that TikTok had settled the lawsuit. Details could not be disclosed. By the way, TikTok never confirmed that it had used Standing’s voice, but the feature definitely sounded like her. About two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, TikTok’s text-to-speech voice changed.
Even today, Bev was quoted in the BBC article Actors launch campaign against AI ‘show stealers.’ The article states: “Actors’ livelihoods are at risk from artificial intelligence unless the law changes, a union warns.”
I decided to catch up with Bev after she became the latest Unicorn, and this is my interview:
First off, how did you celebrate your win in court?
I think I slept! Finally.
Some say that your lawsuit against TikTok might have been your defining moment in the VO community. Do you see it that way yourself?
First and foremost I see myself as a business owner. This was a business decision to challenge the company that used my work without permission. The fact that it may be seen as a defining moment is bittersweet. I would like to think that if it had happened to anyone else, they would have done the same; that is to say, to stand up for what’s right and protect my product/business. When I made the decision to move forward, I certainly didn’t expect it to be as momentous as it was; however, to be recognized within the VO community as a leader and an ethical human is humbling and reassuring at the same time. With no official schooling in how to run a business, I guess I’m doing ok. So ya, I guess it was a defining moment.
Are you allowed to talk about the lawsuit, or did you sign a NDA?
I signed a NDA.
You’ve always said that this wasn’t necessarily about you. If not about you, what was it about, what was at stake?
It was about what was right as a business person, not about trying to make a name for myself. Voice actors protect themselves with contracts all the time, but let’s just look at tv broadcast. If you were paid to do a commercial that would air on an spot locally and then surprisingly, with no communication with you, it aired nationally – you bet you and/or your agent would speak up. This was no different, just on a much larger scale. What was at stake was setting a standard and an awareness to other talent, clients and all the folks in between.
What lessons can and should we as voice over colleagues learn from your experience? What lessons should companies like TikTok take to heart from your lawsuit?
One word: Contracts. Make sure you have a good one and it’s understood with very clear guidelines. Ensure when auditioning for projects that you are clear about what you agree to and make sure you know what the intention of the end product is. Common on P2P sites, no description as to where it will air or how long, whether it’s broadcast or non-broadcast, internal or external – or if it’s going to be sold down the road. Ask questions!!!
As far as what companies should take from this, I would say “you can’t do this”. You must pay the talent for use of their voice. Understand the law.
Tell me a little bit about Robert Sciglimpaglia‘s role in this process, and the importance of getting a lawyer involved.
Rob was amazing from the first point of contact right up to the final settlement. He understands the law, as a good lawyer should, but is also a voice talent, director, producer and more himself, so he understands the industry overall better than others perhaps, in my opinion. He knew the legal procedures and was able to navigate all my emails with the client from the beginning to the many discussions with Bytedance that I never could have figured out. Without a lawyer, I feel this would been have been a disaster. [Bytedance is TikToks’ owner, PS]
Did you honestly ever doubt that you would win? I mean, it was a case of David against Goliath.
Absolutely. The legal system is complex, however, I certainly felt it was right ethically AND legally, so I (we) had to try.
A lot of people have supported you financially. You said that the money that was donated is not going to you. Remind us how much was donated, and what will happen to the money, and why that’s important to you.
The money was a way for people to try and help me cover legal expenses should I have needed it. I only agreed to the Go Fund Me account because of the possibility of having to make several trips to New York to go to court, (travel/accommodations) and if that didn’t happen, I didn’t want to accept the money if I didn’t use if for that. Brad Venable, an incredible voice talent, friend and all-around nice guy, had recently passed and there was a scholarship set up. It just made sense to me to contribute to that and help, not one, but many people. It was $7,289.56 USD and Rob also donated by matching what he was out of pocket for. As I said, this was set up for people to help, so giving to a scholarship to help people just made sense.
Congratulations on winning the coveted VOA Unicorn Award. Can you explain in a haiku what this means to you?
Am deeply humbled
Grateful to everyone
Lead by example
I’m sure you’ve had moments in your career where things weren’t going so well, and you were questioning whether or not it was all worth it. What did you say to yourself to keep on going? What made it worthwhile to go on?
I am truly blessed in that the voiceover journey for me has been an ongoing widening path and generally no brick walls in my way. Yes, there’re days when I would like more work, but I have a glass-half-full attitude. I’m always growing, always learning and always developing new skills and meeting new people. Win Win. I came from a dark place in my life and the light keeps shining brighter and brighter. It warms my heart and keeps me happy.
Lots of people look at you as a symbol of success in the industry. Do you see yourself as successful?
It took a while for me to see this, but yes, I have done quite well. Success financially has been great and I’ve reached an income level I never imagined nor thought possible in my other careers, but more importantly, I love what I do so it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve met so many incredible people, helped many on their path and that means the world to me. So yes, I see myself as successful. Is my journey over? Not by a long shot.
Does this mean you’ve “got it made,” that clients are lining up to work with you, that you never have to audition again? Or what does reality look like for you?
Oh no, the minute you think that way I think you’re in trouble. Yes, I have many clients in my little black book and yes, they bring me work without auditioning, however, you never know right! Besides some of the job opportunities presented, might bring me closer to my dreams of voicing for certain companies or products and I can’t sit back and just wait. I audition every day….. a lot.
You’re 65, you could retire, yet somehow you don’t seem like the retiring type. What keeps you going, and what’s one voice over dream you have, that hasn’t come true yet?
65 going on 35. I don’t have a lot of hobbies, so retiring doesn’t seem enticing. Although, I’m working on finding a better work/life balance so that I can spend more time with my partner, kids and grandbaby! Maybe getaways for a week or two here and there. There are two dreams I have. One sort of came true when I did a Canadian commercial for Kraft cheese but I would love to do a national for Kraft – Kraft anything, as well as P&G. There’s a connection to my Dad and it would be something very special to me. You know what you say – put it out there – the universe is listening.
Thank you so much Bev, and warmest congratulations on being our new Unicorn!
THE EQUITY CAMPAIGN HAS LAUNCHED
If you have a few minutes to spare, please read the BBC story about a new campaign launched by Equity, the British performing arts workers union, aimed at companies stealing work from (voice) actors by using deep fakes of faces and voices.
“From automated audiobooks to digital avatars, AI systems are now replacing skilled professional performers” the union says. It warns of “dystopian” consequences unless copyright law adapts.
The union argues existing copyright law does not give performers sufficient protection, because AI “reproduces performances without generating a recording or a copy”.
Equity wants the government to take action to protect performers’ rights and wants reform of copyright laws to “keep pace with technological development”.
Don’t think this is just an issue in the UK. Sooner or later, you will have to decide how to deal with it, and you better be informed so you don’t have to go to court, like Bev did.