- By Shiona McCallum
- Tech Journalist
July 14, 2023
Hollywood actors strike for the first time in 43 years, shutting down American film and television, in part over fears of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI).
The Screen Actors Guild Actors Union (SAG-AFTRA) has failed to reach an agreement in the United States for better AI protection for its members – and has warned that “artificial intelligence constitutes an existential threat to the creative professions” as she prepared to dig deeper into the issue.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the chief negotiator for the SAG-AFTRA union, has so far criticized producers for their AI proposals.
He said the studios had requested the ability to scan the faces of background artists for payment for a day’s work and then be able to own and use their image “for the rest of eternity, in any project of their choice, without consent and without compensation”.
If it sounds like the plot of an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, that’s because it is.
US media was quick to point out that the recent series six episode “Joan Is Awful” sees Hollywood star Salma Hayek grapple with the discovery that her AI-likeness may be used by a production company to his knowledge.
And it’s not just SAG-AFTRA that’s worried about so-called “performance cloning.”
Liam Budd, from UK acting union Equity, said: “We see this technology being used in a range of things like automated audio books, synthesized voice-over work, digital avatars for corporate videos, or also the role of deepfakes that are used in movies.”
Mr Budd said there was a “fear floating around” among Equity members and the union was trying to educate them to understand their rights in this fast-changing world.
Filmmaker and writer Justine Bateman, speaking to BBC’s Tech Life earlier this year said she doesn’t think the entertainment industry needs AI at all.
“Technology should solve a problem and there is no problem that those who use AI solve. We don’t lack writers, we don’t lack actors, we don’t lack filmmakers – so we no need for AI,” she said.
“The problem it solves is for companies that feel they don’t have wide enough profit margins – because if you can eliminate the overhead of having to pay everyone, you can appease Wall Street and have better earnings reports.
“If the use of AI proliferates, the entertainment industry will crater the entire fabric of this business.”
It may only be a matter of time before ChatGPT or Bard can conjure up an innovative movie script or turn an idea into a blockbuster script.
Some say AI will always lack the humanity that makes a movie script great, but there are legitimate concerns that it will put writers out of work.
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) – a union representing writers for television, film, theatre, books and video games in the UK – has several concerns, including:
- AI developers are using writers’ work without their permission and infringing writers’ copyright
- AI tools do not correctly identify where AI has been used to create content
- Increased use of AI will reduce job opportunities for writers
- Use of AI will remove writers’ pay
- AI will dilute the creative industry’s contributions to the UK’s economy and national identity.
The WGGB has made a number of recommendations to help protect writers, including AI developers only using writers’ work if they have been given express permission and AI developers being transparent about data used to form their tools.
WGGB Deputy General Secretary Lesley Gannon said: “As with any new technology, we need to weigh the risks against the benefits and ensure that the speed of development does not exceed or derail the safeguards on which the writers and the entire creative workforce count for a living.
“Regulation is clearly needed to protect workers’ rights and protect the public from fraud and misinformation.”
The rapid development of AI over the past year has made the concept of ownership convoluted.
When someone enters their likeness into an AI-generated portrait app such as DrawAnyone, DALL-E, or even Snapchat, the resulting images are now in the public domain and can be used by anyone.
The new image is not protected by copyright law.
Dr Mathilde Pavis, a lawyer specializing in digital cloning technologies, told the BBC that UK copyright laws needed to change.
“It’s strange to me that your face and your voice are less protected than your car, your laptop, your phone, your house or your books – but that’s the state of the law today.
“And that’s because we didn’t think we would be so vulnerable, as vulnerable as we are in terms of reuse and imitation with AI technologies,” she said.
Additional reporting by Tom Gerken and Tom Singleton.