April 19, 2024
SAG-AFTRA Ends Historic Strike with Groundbreaking AI Guidelines for Performers

SAG-AFTRA Ends Historic Strike with Groundbreaking AI Guidelines for Performers

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has brought its 118-day strike to a close, achieving significant breakthroughs in various negotiated stipulations, most notably on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the entertainment industry.

A summary of the final deal with studios, released by the union, includes comprehensive AI guidelines outlined in a digital pamphlet, setting the stage for new regulations within the industry. The AI agreement is slated to take effect 90 days after the agreement’s ratification, encompassing crucial aspects such as defining AI within industry terms, the digital replication of performers, handling digital alterations, and establishing semi-annual meetings between the union and producers to address generative AI use.

The contract, approved by an overwhelming 86% of the SAG-AFTRA board, underwent voting by union members starting on November 12, with a 21-day voting period.

Key provisions of the deal focus on the creation, use, and alteration of “digital replicas” of performers. These digital replicas, which involve copies of a performer’s voice or likeness for scenarios where they didn’t physically perform, are categorized based on whether they are made independently or in employment with studios. Compensation negotiations for the latter fall under the responsibility of actors directly employed by studios, covering the creation and use of AI replicas along with their incorporation into additional projects or other mediums, in addition to normal residuals.

The agreement introduces the concept of a “synthetic performer,” defined as a “digitally-created asset” designed to create the impression of a natural performer without being recognizable as any identifiable individual.

Addressing concerns about the potential replacement of background actors through AI, the agreement explicitly states that replicas must not be utilized to meet background counts for the day, and their use should not be a means to circumvent engaging background actors.

Crucially, the agreement emphasizes the necessity of explicit and “conspicuous” consent from both principal and background actors during the replication process. This consent covers usage in the production for which it is made and any potential future use, including digital alterations to the performer’s performance in previously recorded material. Producers are mandated to provide a reasonably specific description of the alterations they intend to make.

Reactions within the industry have been mixed, with some praising the deal for its progressive stance on AI regulations, while others express concerns about the potential implications for performers. Director and producer Justine Bateman took to social media to express her disagreement, labelling the AI permissions as “violating” and expressing disappointment in SAG-AFTRA leadership.

On the other side, actor Jason Winston George, a negotiating committee member on the deal, defended the agreement, stating that it acknowledges the inevitability of technological advancements and offers protections allowing actors to navigate the wave of AI technology.

While the strike’s conclusion marks a pivotal moment for SAG-AFTRA, discussions continue about potential challenges in the future, including the emergence of completely AI-generated characters known as “Synthetic Fakes,” representing a potential future battleground in the ongoing relationship between performers and evolving technologies.

The end of the SAG-AFTRA strike follows the conclusion of the Writer’s Guild of America strike on September 24, which also delved into negotiations surrounding industry practices, including AI usage in writer’s rooms.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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