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In Hollywood Strike, AI’s Part Is Important

FILE - Members of the The Writers Guild of America picket outside Fox Studios on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
FILE - Members of the The Writers Guild of America picket outside Fox Studios on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, File)
In Hollywood Strike, AI’s Part Is Important
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Labor unions for actors and writers are striking over pay, benefits and job protections. But Artificial intelligence technology has become a big issue in Hollywood’s labor fight.

AI has introduced a new point of disagreement between artists and production companies. Here is a look at what both sides say they want.

Why is AI such an important issue?

With AI, star actors fear they will lose control of their likenesses. Unknown actors fear they will be replaced altogether. Writers fear they will have to share credit with or lose credit to machines.

The proposed contracts which the two sides have been attempting to negotiate is to last only three years. Even at the speed at which AI technology is developing, it is unlikely there would be a large displacement of writers or actors within that period of time. But unions and employers know that if they compromise on an issue, it will be harder to get what they want in the next set of negotiations.

New technology is important to filmmaking. AI has been used to make actors look younger, like Harrison Ford in the recent film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

All sides in the strike know that use of new technology will continue to increase. That is why both sides are looking to establish legal and creative control.

The actors’ view

Actors in the labor discussions are represented by the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) represents the production companies, which are the employers. The strike started on July 13.

SAG-AFTRA released an opinion of the studios’ position on the use of AI and their images. The group said the production companies want “…to scan a background performer’s image, pay them for a half a day’s labor, and then use an individual’s likeness for any purpose forever without their consent."

The union also said employers want “…to be able to make changes to…dialogue, and even create new scenes, without informed consent.”

The AMPTP said in a statement that its offers included an “AI proposal which protects performers’ digital likenesses, including a requirement for performers' consent for the creation…of a performance.”

SAG-AFTRA said it wants to protect “human-created work” including changes to the “voice, likeness or performance” of an actor.

Observers say that "voice" comes first on that list for a reason. AI voice technology might be more developed than visual technology. For example, the voices of the late Anthony Bourdain and the late Andy Warhol have both been recreated for recent films.

Writers want credit

During the writers’ contract talks, which broke down in early May, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) said it did not oppose the use of AI. But AI should only be used as a tool to use in a writer’s own work.

The union said writers might be willing to shape stories with help from AI software. But they did not want it to affect the credits that influence their position and pay.

The WGA wants to prevent entirely AI-created stories or dialogue from being considered “literary material.” This means they would not be competing with computers for credit.

The AMPTP said in a document explaining its position that writers “want to be able to use this technology as part of their creative process, without changing how credits are determined, which is complicated given AI material can’t be copyrighted.”

“Only a ‘person’ can be considered a writer,” the AMPTP added. “AI-generated material would not be eligible for writing credit.”

This position could calm writers’ worries about sharing credit with AI. But it could also lead to no one getting credit when they use AI.

Modern movie writing contracts are very complex and hard to understand. So is the question of who receives credit for the work. Observers say adding AI makes the problem even more difficult.

I’m Dan Novak.

Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting from Reuters and The Associated Press.


Words in This Story

benefit — n. things received in addition to pay that employers offer to employees

likeness n. a picture or image of any kind of a person

scan –v. to digitally capture the image of something

consent n. permission that is given by a person old enough and able to give it

dialogue — n. speech that appears in performances like movies, plays and shows

scene –n. a division of a movie, play or performance

copyright n. the legal right to be able to reproduce, publish and sell recordings, books, movies and other performances

eligible adj. able to do or receive something under an agreement