In a move that has reverberated throughout Hollywood and beyond, the recent resolution of the SAG-AFTRA strike has ushered in what may very well be a new era for actors, complete with groundbreaking provisions addressing the increasing presence of artificial intelligence in the entertainment industry. The strike, which had been a source of widespread tension and uncertainty, concluded with a tentative agreement that not only addresses traditional concerns but also takes a giant leap into the future of acting in the digital age.
The announcement of the end of the strike was met with relief in some circles, guarded optimism in others. Industry insiders and fans alike had been anxiously awaiting a resolution to the standoff between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for months. Now, as details of the agreement have emerged, it is clear that one of the main sticking points within the negotiations was truly uncharted territory – artificial intelligence and its impact on the craft of acting. And not everyone is pleased with all facets of the resolution.
The Age of ‘Digital Replica’ Actors is Coming
Indeed, just how studios can utilize actor likenesses, and what is to be considered out of bounds for the foreseeable future, was a hotly contested topic. The deal includes provisions aimed at protecting actors from potential exploitation and ensuring fair compensation for their work in AI-driven projects by defining likenesses as ‘digital replicas’ and giving actors official authority to bargain for compensation if such replicas are used by studios. In essence, the agreement defines AI likenesses as ‘synthetic performers,’ digitally created assets that depict and represent a specific actor that said actor would be compensated for, should it be used. This development reflects a growing awareness within the industry of the transformative power of AI and its implications for the creative workforce.
Crucially, the agreement addresses not only the financial aspects of AI implementation but also the creative control actors have over their digital personas. This was reportedly a demand that SAG-AFTRA was not willing to bend on, as AI technology has the potential to replicate an actor’s likeness and performance in virtual environments, leading to concerns about consent and artistic integrity.
Not All is Sunny in Hollywood
While the inclusion of AI considerations in the SAG-AFTRA agreement is a significant step toward acknowledging the role of technology in shaping the future of entertainment, not all SAG-AFTRA members are on board with the current deal that was struck. Although the report contains language about digital likeness ownership and compensation, some members openly criticized the deal as containing possible loopholes that studios may focus on exploiting, to the detriment of human actors.
Some are fearful that actors who refuse to consent to digital replication will be ostracized and less likely to be hired for acting roles. Others feel that the deal’s language is not specific enough when it comes to particular situations such as reshoots. The SAG-AFTRA/AMPTP deal notes that studios will not require consent from actors to use digital replacements if the “photography or soundtrack remains substantially as scripted, performed, and/or recorded.” While some actors may welcome not needing to return to set should a minor variation be handled by their likeness, others are more wary of what they perceive to be studio meddling and overreach.
Ending the Strike While the Iron is Hot
Regardless of differing opinions within SAG-AFTRA, its strike and subsequent resolution undoubtedly mark a pivotal moment in the history of entertainment industry labor negotiations. The inclusion of AI considerations in the agreement reflects a forward-thinking approach that acknowledges the inevitable integration of technology into creative processes. As AI continues to evolve, the provisions established in this agreement can serve as a foundation for future discussions and negotiations within the industry. And by addressing these necessary AI issues now instead of kicking the can, the industry aims to strike a balance between embracing technological innovation and preserving the rights and dignity of the creative workforce before its use becomes egregious and uncontrolled.
The end of the strike also brings a broader relief to industry stakeholders, along with a sense of optimism for the future of acting in the age of AI and sets a precedent for addressing the unique challenges posed by emerging technologies. As the entertainment industry continues to navigate these uncharted waters, this landmark agreement provides a framework for ensuring that actors remain at the forefront of innovation while maintaining the integrity of their craft. If you have questions about AI and how it may affect your intellectual property efforts, Richards Rodriguez & Skeith’s Intellectual Property team may be able to help. Contact us today to find out how!