SAG-AFTRA Details Major Win in AI Battle

The SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike is coming to an end, culminating months of negotiations between the union and the AMPTP. The strike, which began in July of this year, concerned a number of issues within the entertainment industry, including the increasing prevalence of artificial intelligence. After worries that the studios would use artificial intelligence as a tool to replace actors or feature them without their consent, we now know how the final deal shook out. While speaking to reporters on Friday, SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabree-Ireland confirmed that the A.I. specifics were determined in the final day of negotiations, and that they will ensure these portrayals have the real-life actors in mind.

“We were engaged in a very serious fight with the companies over what was going to happen with respect to the use of generative A.I. to create what we call ‘synthetic fake performers,'” Crabtree-Ireland explained. “And what the result of that is that number one, we have a provision that requires the companies to get the consent of performers whose facial features are used as part of the creation of such a synthetic — even if it’s more than one performer, even if it’s only a part of those recognizable facial features. Number two, the companies are obligated to give us notice anytime that they use generative AI to create a synthetic fake performer, so we’ll know about it. And number three, the union has the right to bargain over compensation on behalf of those people, in the event that the companies create any kind of synthetic fake performer. So that was the piece that ultimately came together on the very last day on day 118 of the strike. And with that piece added to everything else I mentioned, we feel that there is a robust and comprehensive set of protections for our members against the implementation of A.I. in the industry. It allows the industry to go forward. It does not block A.I., but it makes sure that the rights to consent are protected, the rights to fair compensation, and the rights to employment for protected.”

What Were SAG-AFTRA’s AI Worries?

The issue of artificial intelligence has played a role in both the SAG-AFTRA strike and the Writers Guild of America writers’ strike, which successfully wrapped with a deal in late September. As far as actors go, the worry has concerned performers being digitally-scanned and inserted into projects, potentially without their consent. Some comments had suggested that some studios wanted to use these digital likenesses in perpetuity.

“This ‘groundbreaking’ AI proposal that they gave us yesterday: they propose that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want with no consent and no compensation,” Crabtree-Ireland revealed in July. “So if you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.”

When Did the SAG-AFTRA Strike Start?

The SAG-AFTRA strike officially began on July 14, 2023. In a statement tied to the strike announcement in July, SAG-AFTRA representatives revealed that the strike is commencing after four weeks of negotiations with the AMPTP, and an existing negotiation extension from June 30th to July 12th. Back in May, SAG-AFTRA’s national board unanimously agreed to send an authorization vote to members, with and 97.91 percent of members ultimately voting in favor to authorize.

“Yesterday our union celebrated the 90th anniversary of the incorporation of Screen Actors Guild,” Crabtree-Ireland said during a press conference. “During our nearly century long existence we’ve fought for and achieved countless gains for working actors. Today, we embark on a new important chapter in our unions history. Earlier this morning, the SAG-AFTRA national board convened following four weeks of negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television producers in a meeting, because AMPTP remains unwilling to offer a fair deal on key issues essential to protecting the livelihoods of working actors and performers. SAG AFTRA as national board unanimously voted to issue a strike order against the studios and streamers.”

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