Of the 16-page summary detailing the tentative deal between SAG-AFTRA and the studios, more than five are spent on provisions over artificial intelligence. This reflects the significant impact that AI is having on the entertainment industry and the need for regulations and protections for actors. It’s the product of months of hard-nosed bargaining by the union on an issue that the studios seemingly didn’t think would emerge as a sticking point walking into negotiations.
The document cites the establishment of a “broad, protective” definition of generative artificial intelligence, along with requirements surrounding notice, consent, and compensation around digital replicas of actors and “synthetic performers” created by AI tools. This showcases the union’s efforts to ensure that actors are properly compensated and protected in an era of increasing AI usage in entertainment.
But SAG-AFTRA members may still have plenty to worry about on AI restrictions — especially on the issue of the creation and deployment of digital replicas in performances that could allow studios to circumvent what were intended to be enhanced protections for actors. This raises concerns about the potential for studios to use digital doubles as a condition of employment, potentially undermining the rights and protections of actors.
The summary of the tentative agreement splits a digital replica into two types: employment-based, which is created with the performer’s physical participation in connection with employment in a project, and independently-created, which is essentially licensed to a production using an actor’s voice and likeness. The deal grants notable restrictions on consent and compensation for both groups, including a provision that actors be paid at their rates for the number of days they would’ve worked if not for the utilization of their employment-based digital replica (EBDR). This is a significant step to ensure that actors are fairly compensated for the use of their digital replicas.
However, there are concerns about the potential normalization of digital replicas in the industry, especially for actors who fall short of making the A-list and are presented with offers that are tied with blanket licenses to use digital clones over the duration of a franchise. This highlights the need for ongoing vigilance and protection of actors’ rights in the face of evolving technology and industry practices.
Similarly, writers have faced challenges in maintaining protections for their separated rights, with contracts now typically tying employment for most writers to the sale of separated rights back to studios at a minimal price. This erosion of protections raises questions about the long-term impact on writers’ ability to exploit content in new media and reinforces the need for ongoing negotiations and protections for creative professionals.
Once traditionally in the realm of CGI, the biggest leaps in the realistic creation of digital replicas are being made in artificial intelligence. This raises concerns about intellectual property laws and the potential displacement of human labor. SAG-AFTRA is similarly concerned about studios utilizing actors’ actions, movements, and facial expressions as training data for “synthetic performers,” with the ultimate goal of displacing human labor. The tentative deal allows the use of actors’ performances as training data, though the two sides will meet regularly to discuss remuneration, if any.
In response to concerns about the AI portion of the deal, union chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland explained that studios were never going to relent on allowing AI in some capacity. With concessions on this part, SAG-AFTRA could’ve made gains on other negotiating points, like residuals. This negotiation reflects the complex trade-offs and compromises that are made in labor agreements, and reinforces the ongoing efforts to protect the rights and interests of creative professionals.
“There are some aspects of this agreement that aren’t perfect,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “This negotiating team fought so hard to get the best possible protections in artificial intelligence. We all play our hand. This hand that we have played from our perspective achieves what we set out.”
In conclusion, the summary of the tentative agreement between SAG-AFTRA and the studios reflects the ongoing challenges and negotiations around the use of artificial intelligence in the entertainment industry. It highlights the need for ongoing vigilance, negotiations, and protections to ensure that actors and writers are fairly compensated and protected in the face of evolving technology and industry practices.