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### Philosophical Concern Arises Among Players Over SAG’s Hollywood AI Partnership

As SAG-AFTRA union members vote to ratify the historic strike-breaking deal with the studios, some …

Shaan Sharma dedicated much of the past year to negotiating essential deals for players and their opportunities in the entertainment industry with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers while also serving as an integral part of the Screen Actors Guild. The emergence of artificial intelligence posed a significant concern for committee members and performers, raising apprehensions about its potential impact on Hollywood’s landscape and their professional trajectories. The inclusion of AI clauses in the contract with Hollywood studios, subject to approval by SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 federation members in the upcoming weeks, has sparked unease for Sharma, known for his outspokenness and willingness to challenge union decisions.

In the realm of negotiations, Sharma questions whether the negotiating committee fulfilled its commitment to the members, ensuring that their core concerns, which prompted the strike initially, were addressed without compromise. Despite the tentative agreement that temporarily ended the 118-day actor strike, suspended nationwide protests, and allowed performers to resume work, Sharma, along with a fraction of voters, including himself, expressed dissent. While the majority is anticipated to ratify the agreement, concerns linger over the absence of AI safeguards, as highlighted during information sessions and the release of an 18-page summary agreement. Sharma stands among the dissenting voters, particularly citing objections to the AI provisions.

The agreement mandates that companies seek prior approval 48 hours in advance before creating a digital replica of an actor’s voice and likeness, a deal celebrated by Hollywood studios as a significant milestone in contractual gains. Actors are also entitled to compensation for these modern replicas. Moreover, explicit consent is required if “synthetic performers” with identifiable facial features, created using relational AI, are to be developed based on the actor’s attributes.

Sharma emphasizes the importance of obtaining performers’ consent before generating digital replicas and generative AI, underscoring the significance of genuine consent at the time of engagement rather than a mandatory condition for employment. He raises concerns about the contract’s provisions leaving background actors, musicians, dancers, and stunt performers vulnerable, particularly regarding the ambiguous language surrounding the intended use of an actor’s digital replica. The lack of clarity and specificity in defining the scope of usage poses risks for performers without adequate resources to navigate potential infringements.

The rushed nature of finalizing the deal, influenced by external pressures from CEOs and the AMPTP, has drawn criticism from Sharma, who questions the integrity of the decision-making process. The hastiness of the National Board meeting and the subsequent approval of the agreement without thorough deliberation have left lingering doubts about the transparency and diligence of the negotiating council.

Duncan Crabtree, the national executive director of SAG-AFTRA, defends the decision-making process, emphasizing the necessity of reaching a balanced agreement that addresses the core concerns while leveraging the union’s bargaining power effectively. Despite criticisms from factions within the union, the agreement’s AI provisions have faced scrutiny from advocacy groups like the Background Artists Coalition, urging for greater transparency and comprehensive disclosure of the contract terms.

The concerns surrounding AI clauses have resonated across various stakeholders within the entertainment industry, prompting discussions on the broader implications of AI integration in creative processes. Notable figures like Justine Bateman have raised objections to the language used in the agreement, particularly the absence of explicit recognition of actors as human beings. The evolving landscape of AI applications in entertainment raises ethical and professional dilemmas, necessitating a nuanced approach to safeguarding performers’ rights and preserving the integrity of their craft.

As the deadline for union members to approve the agreement approaches, stakeholders like Iris Liu stress the importance of informed decision-making and collective action to address the challenges posed by AI advancements. The evolving discourse on AI protections in the entertainment sector underscores the need for proactive measures and regulatory frameworks to ensure ethical practices and uphold industry standards in the face of technological disruptions.

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Last modified: February 24, 2024
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