Hollywood actor strike over: deal secured, threat of AI fended off

American actors are celebrating – the strike which lasted for nearly four months is over, and the union says “unprecedented provisions” regarding the use of artificial intelligence were negotiated.

As of Thursday morning, the strike, announced 118 days ago by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), is officially over – a tentative agreement with Hollywood studios has finally been reached.

The union will release more details about the agreement after its national board looks at it on Friday for review and consideration. But SAG-AFTRA says that it was able to secure a contract valued at over $1 billion.

Probably most importantly, the union said it had achieved “unprecedented provisions for consent and compensation that will protect members from the threat of AI.” Actors have long demanded to control the ability of studios to replicate their voices and likenesses via generative AI models.

Similar to the case of the writers’ strike which ended earlier, generative AI had become the sticking point that prevented SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing the big studios and streaming platforms, from being able to find an agreement.

Just a few days ago, the Hollywood Reporter cited sources saying that the AMPTP wanted to make AI scans of Schedule F performers – union members earning more than $32,000 per TV episode or $60,000 per film – which they could then keep reusing without having to pay them again.

According to the report, studios could continue using the actors’ likenesses even after they pass away without permission from the union or from their estate.

The actors’ union understandably rejected the proposals from the studios for months. However, it now seems the AMPTP has extended an olive branch and agreed to adjust the language it used for AI in its documents – which then presumably led to the tentative agreement.

When announcing the union's intention to strike against the AMPTP in mid-July, SAG-AFTRA's national executive director and chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, said: "Actors now face an existential threat to their livelihoods from the use of AI and generative technology.”

“They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get one day’s pay, and their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness, and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation,” added Crabtree-Ireland.

In September, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) also officially ended its strike after securing a deal with AI provisions it approved of. Studios now can't use generative AI to write or rewrite literary material, and anything it produces cannot be considered source material.

Studios also cannot force writers to use generative AI software unless they want to, and they have to disclose whether materials handed over to a writer include anything generated by AI. The "exploitation of writers' material to train AI" is explicitly prohibited.

The SAG-AFTRA labor action, paired with the writers’ strike, had completely shut down Hollywood production for over half a year. After the resolution of both strikes, there’s now talk of resuming film and TV production at the start of 2024.

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