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SAG-AFTRA's Tentative Agreement Raises Concerns Over AI Use in Film and TV Productions

While the recent resolution of the SAG-AFTRA strike brings relief to the entertainment industry, concerns linger over the tentative contract's provisions related to the use of generative AI technology.

The recent end to the SAG-AFTRA strike brings hope for normalcy in the entertainment world, but the fine print of the tentative agreement has left actors uneasy. A major point of contention revolves around the incorporation of generative AI technology, raising questions about actors' consent, compensation, and the potential impact on their roles.

The tentative agreement outlines provisions for actors' consent and compensation concerning the use of digital replicas. Studios must seek clear and express consent from actors before capturing their likenesses. Compensation, in some cases, includes at least the minimum "day performer rate (including residuals as applicable)" for actors undergoing face and body scans.

Despite the apparent safeguards, critics argue that the agreement's language leaves room for interpretation, potentially benefiting studios. Director and former SAG-AFTRA board member Justine Bateman highlights concerns about AI-generated objects competing with human actors for jobs, raising questions about the potential reduction in job opportunities.

While the summary mentions the studios' obligation to "endeavor to comply" until the contract's official ratification, the document lacks detailed enforcement mechanisms. The threat of non-compliance claims and regular meetings between SAG-AFTRA and studios are suggested as mechanisms to encourage adherence to the agreement.

The agreement introduces categories such as employment-based digital replicas (EBDRs) and independently created digital replicas (ICDRs). Studios can create replicas based on real actors or entirely digital versions resembling real actors in character. Additionally, the concept of "synthetic performers" generated through generative AI is defined.

Studios can continue using scans of actors after their deaths unless specified otherwise in contracts. For projects using synthetic performers, studios must notify SAG-AFTRA and offer an opportunity for bargaining. However, details about the bargaining process are yet to be clarified.

Actors are compensated for the initial scan and use of their likenesses. However, Schedule F contract signees may not receive payment for subsequent use of EBDRs. The compensation rate for EBDRs is standardized, but ICDRs require individual negotiation, potentially leading to varying rates.

Studios may not need consent for using ICDRs in projects protected by the First Amendment, such as docudramas, satires, or parodies. The lack of a clear threshold for substantial changes triggering contract mechanisms raises concerns about the studios' unilateral alterations.

The summary suggests that actors have recourse through arbitration for financial compensation if they believe the contract is violated. However, concerns about potential violations, such as nonconsensual use or misrepresentation, might only be addressed legislatively in the future.

The agreement's foray into regulating AI in the entertainment industry reflects the evolving landscape where technology intersects with artistic expression. As SAG-AFTRA members prepare for the ratification vote on December 5th, the concerns and unanswered questions regarding AI use underscore the need for a nuanced balance between industry innovation and actors' rights. The unique challenges posed by generative AI technology require careful consideration to ensure the protection of performers in an era of rapid technological advancement.