Hollywood Actors on the Verge of Strike: The Battle for Control over AI Replicas Intensifies

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is engaged in a fierce battle with studios over the control of AI digital replicas of performers.


In a development reminiscent of a science fiction show, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is engaged in a fierce battle with studios over the control of digital replicas of performers that could potentially exist "for the rest of eternity." This issue has brought artificial intelligence (AI) into the spotlight, with concerns that AI technology could be used to duplicate actors' voices and likenesses without their consent.

Actors in the film and television industry have used contract negotiations as an opportunity to assert their control over how these digital simulations are utilized on screen. However, the recent talks between SAG and the Hollywood studios concluded on Wednesday without reaching an agreement, resulting in SAG announcing that its members would go on strike at midnight.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing major studios and streaming services such as Walt Disney and Netflix, claimed to have offered a "groundbreaking AI proposal" to protect performers' digital likenesses. According to the studios, this proposal ensures that actors' consent is obtained before creating and using a digital replica or altering their performance using AI.

SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, disputed the studios' characterization of their proposal during a press conference in Los Angeles. He criticized their stance, stating that the studios want the right to scan background performers, pay them for one day's work, and own the digital replica indefinitely. He challenged the notion that this proposal was groundbreaking, emphasizing the need for further consideration.

The AMPTP, in response, clarified that SAG-AFTRA's claim about the perpetual use of digital replicas without consent or compensation is false. They highlighted that their current proposal restricts the use of the digital replicas to the specific motion picture for which the background actor is employed. Any other use would require the actor's consent and negotiations for compensation, subject to a minimum payment.

With Hollywood's largest union representing 160,000 film and television actors on the brink of a strike, the battle over control of AI replicas continues to escalate. The outcome of this struggle will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the industry and the future of AI's role in entertainment.

Companies like Netflix (NFLX), Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), and Disney (DIS) - which are all threatened to be impacted by the strike - would all reap huge benefits if they're able to use AI actors or voices without having to compensate the actors for it.

AI was recently used to de-age Harrison Ford in the newest Indiana Jones movie, and Disney has been rolling out the use of AI to freshen up some of the older actors it employs.

AI technologies have also been used to imitate voices. This could be significant for famous actors that lend their voices to animated movies. Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), was paid $20 million for his voice in the hit animation Moana. If studios could pay for the voice once and then use it for every movie going forward without the actor, their consent, or any additional costs, production costs would plummet and there would be a lot of out of work actors.

It seems like a foregone conclusion the courts would side with the actors here, much in the way they have sided with musicians whose music was poached to recreate a new song - remember the Vanilla Ice and David Bowie fight? But courts take years and in the meantime, we may see some rogue use of actor voices and appearances, perhaps even some funny voice-activated birthday cards.

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