Actors Approve New Contract Despite Concerns Over AI Protections

In this post:

  • Actors approve new contracts but worry about weak AI protections.
  • Contract prevents AI from replicating actors but allows “synthetic fakes.”
  • Strikes cost the industry $10 billion, crippling it for months.

In a significant development for the entertainment industry, actors have voted to approve a new three-year contract with studios, effectively ending six months of labor unrest. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced that the contract received an overall ratification rate of 78%, exceeding the required simple majority.

Ratification and comparisons

The new contract, valued at over $1 billion over three years, encompasses a range of provisions aimed at benefiting the union members. This includes better health care funding, improved on-set services such as hair and makeup, concessions related to self-taped auditions, and a mandatory requirement for intimacy coordinators during sex scenes. The agreement also addresses the emerging realm of artificial intelligence (AI) in the industry.

In comparison, screenwriters had ratified their new contract with studios in October with an overwhelming 99% approval rate. However, actors secured a 7% first-year raise, slightly more than the 5% obtained by the writers. Both unions resorted to strikes earlier in the year, with writers striking in May and actors in July, which led to protracted labor disputes in the industry.

One notable aspect of the new contract is the inclusion of AI protections. The agreement guarantees that studios will not utilize AI tools to create digital replicas of performers without proper payment or approval, marking a significant gain for actors. However, some members have expressed dissatisfaction with the strength of these protections.

Critics argue that the contract still allows studios to deploy AI to create “synthetic fakes,” where recognizable features from real actors are combined to fabricate entirely new characters. Matthew Modine, a SAG-AFTRA board member, voiced concerns, stating that the contract’s ratification could lead to more job reductions, particularly affecting background and stunt performers. 

He also highlighted how the use of AI has already impacted voice performers, who have seen their roles replaced by digitized “sound-alike” voices, even resurrecting the voices of deceased performers.

Another contentious issue raised by actors is the contract’s allowance for studios to require body scans as a condition of employment. Studios also retain the right to use past performances to train AI tools, further fueling concerns about the long-term implications of AI in the industry.

Membership participation

SAG-AFTRA reported that over 50,000 members cast their ballots during the three-week voting period, reflecting an increased turnout compared to previous years. Of the eligible members, 38% participated in the vote, up from approximately 27% in 2020 and 15% in 2017.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, representing major entertainment companies, congratulated the union on the ratification of the contract. They anticipate that with this development, the industry and the jobs it supports will be able to return in full force.

The strikes earlier in the year had a substantial impact on the entertainment industry, bringing Hollywood to a standstill. The financial consequences were significant, affecting not only writers and actors but also over 100,000 behind-the-scenes workers who were out of jobs for months. 

According to Todd Holmes, an associate professor of entertainment media management at California State University, Northridge, the strikes resulted in roughly $10 billion in losses nationwide. While Los Angeles is home to major studios, they also utilize soundstage complexes in other states like Georgia, New York, New Jersey, and New Mexico.

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