SAG-AFTRA Successfully Bargains for AI Protections in Hollywood
After months of strikes by the writers’ and screen actors’ unions, Hollywood has finally reached a deal to get back to work. While the agreement still needs to be ratified by the SAG-AFTRA membership, it marks a significant milestone in the post-pandemic recovery of the TV and movie industry. The deal includes substantial increases in income flows to actors, particularly in residuals from streaming. However, the most noteworthy aspect of the agreement is the protections it provides for actors regarding the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the film industry.
Initial Resistance to Discussing AI
Producers initially refused to discuss AI in the negotiations, leading to speculation about their intentions. Some believed that the studios had a secret plan to replace actors with AI, raising concerns about the future of the profession. However, it is more likely that the studios simply wanted to avoid constraining potential business opportunities related to AI, which are not yet fully understood. Both the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA successfully achieved constraints on AI usage in the deal.
Actor Protections in the SAG-AFTRA Deal
The AI provisions in the SAG-AFTRA deal give actors significant control over the creation and specific uses of their digital replicas. The deal ensures that actors are paid for the number of days they would have worked for the appearances of their digital replicas in films or TV shows. It also entitles actors to full residuals for the appearances of their digital replicas. Additionally, the deal requires clear, informed, and specific consent for the use of digital replicas, preventing hidden clauses in lengthy contracts.
These provisions demonstrate the flexibility the studios have given up and reduce the incentive to replace human actors with digital replicas. Why go through the expense of creating a digital replica when the studios still have to pay the human actors for their work and provide residuals?
Some actors, such as Justine Bateman, have made inflammatory comments about the deal, suggesting that actors shouldn’t ratify it if they want to continue working. However, most of Bateman’s comments do not align with the details made public. While the deal does not explicitly forbid the creation of synthetic performers, it also does not foreclose the possibility of animation, which has been part of the industry for a long time.
Critics have also raised concerns about the deal relying on good faith. However, it is important to note that all contractual agreements, legislation, and treaties require good faith implementation. The studios only agreed to the deal when SAG-AFTRA had maximum leverage during the strike, indicating that the union secured a favorable contract.
Significance of the Deal
Overall, the SAG-AFTRA deal not only benefits actors but also sets a groundbreaking precedent for the protection of workers’ rights in the face of digital replacements. By requiring consent and ensuring continued payment for actors when digital replicas are used, the deal establishes important safeguards. It also protects the interests of the American entertainment industry and California’s economy, which would have suffered greatly if the strike had continued.
While the deal still needs to be ratified, it marks a significant achievement in the ongoing negotiations between Hollywood and the unions. It paves the way for the industry to move forward and recover from the losses incurred during the strikes and the pandemic.