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New Agreement Between SAG-AFTRA and Studios Sets Boundaries for the Use of Artificial Intelligence in the Film Industry

Summary

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic of discussion in the film industry, with concerns raised about its potential impact on actors and their performances. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) recently reached an […]

New Agreement Between SAG-AFTRA and Studios Sets Boundaries for the Use of Artificial Intelligence in the Film Industry

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic of discussion in the film industry, with concerns raised about its potential impact on actors and their performances. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) recently reached an agreement with studios, addressing various issues including pension payments, health contributions, limitations on private audition recordings, and compensation for extras. However, one particular concern stood out – zombies.

SAG-AFTRA was worried that studios could use AI to resurrect dead actors or create digital versions of Frankenstein’s monster using body parts of real actors. This was among the final points of negotiation that needed to be resolved to end the 118-day strike on Wednesday.

The final agreement may not have included all the restrictions on AI that SAG-AFTRA desired, but most of them were still incorporated. This includes a requirement for studios to obtain permission from actors whose recognizable features are used for digital versions of Frankenstein’s actors.

“If the smile of Brad Pitt and the eyes of Jennifer Aniston are used, both actors have the right to consent,” stated Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the chief negotiator of the union.

The use of AI became a dominant theme during the strike, as actors saw it as a threat to their control over their performances and even their survival in the industry. Many were afraid that studios could easily replace them with digital versions of themselves.

The provisions regarding AI were deemed a “crowning success” of the new agreement by Kaitlin Dulani, a member of SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee. She emphasized that it was necessary to address these issues and provide a safe and protected environment for their members.

AI was also a significant topic in negotiations for the Writers Guild of America (WGA), but it posed greater urgency and complexity for actors. Both guilds were concerned about the potential use of their work against them, with their scripts or performances being used to train AI databases and create “new” works. For actors, the result could be a synthetic performer with no resemblance to the real person, yet constructed from parts of real performances.

Neither guild obtained the overall restrictions they sought against this type of training. The WGA has the right to dispute and address this issue in court or future contract negotiations. However, SAG-AFTRA achieved protection against the use of recognizable physical characteristics in synthetic performances.

The union also secured the requirement for consent when using images of deceased actors. Under California law, the estate of deceased actors can control the use of their names and likenesses for 70 years after their death. However, these rights only apply to commercial engagements and do not cover “expressive works” such as films or TV shows.

When a studio produces a biographical film with an actor portraying a famous individual, they do not require permission from the estate of that person. However, with the emergence of AI, studios could theoretically film an entirely new western with a digital version of John Wayne without his estate’s approval.

SAG-AFTRA fought against this and, according to Crabtree-Ireland, they emerged victorious. He declared, “That’s gone. They’re going to have to go to the estate.”

SAG-AFTRA also sought to limit AI consent to one project. This means that Harrison Ford could agree to the use of AI for a specific “Indiana Jones” film, but his contract would not allow the studio to endlessly replicate him in future “Indiana Jones” movies.

According to the final agreement, consent for AI can cover multiple projects, but these projects must be specified in the contract, cited Crabtree-Ireland.

Both the union and the studios dedicated significant time to ironing out the details of replicating extras. Some studio representatives warned that SAG-AFTRA’s demands might prohibit certain visual effects that are already part of post-production.

The complete details of the agreement are expected to be released on Friday.

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