Acting union calls out Hollywood studios for ‘double standard’ on AI use

TV and film studios should obtain explicit consent from, give credit to, and compensate actors fairly for using their likeness to train generative AI systems, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union argued this week to the US federal government.

On Wednesday, at a roundtable discussion held by the FTC examining the creative economy and generative AI, SAG-AFTRA’s executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland called out the “double standard” in the relationship between actors and corporations when it comes to copyright infringement. That is to say, why is OK for businesses to use AI – trained from creative people’s work if not their direct likeness – to generate material as they wish, but if a person were to use a business’s intellectual property, it sudden becomes a problem.

“After all, if an individual decided to infringe on one of these companies’ copyright protected content and distribute it without paying for the licensing rights, that individual would face a great deal of financial and legal ramifications,” Crabtree-Ireland said.

“So why is the reverse not true? Shouldn’t the individuals whose intellectual property was used to train the AI algorithm be at least equally protected?” he asked.


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Actors are concerned that their faces, bodies, or voices will be cloned by studios using AI software to automatically create new content. Corporations could just exploit their likeness for free forever, once the actors’ likeness is scanned in and deployed, is the argument. Crabtree-Ireland’s remarks come just as Hollywood actor Tom Hanks and top YouTuber Mr Beast, aka Jimmy Donaldson, warned their images had been unknowingly copied in fake scam adverts. 

In addition, the daughter of the late mega-star Robin Williams said she found it “disturbing” that her father’s voice was being replicated, in AI tests at least, given that he can never consent.

“This isn’t theoretical, it is very very real,” she said, according to The Independent. “I’ve already heard AI used to get his ‘voice’ to say whatever people want and while I find it personally disturbing, the ramifications go far beyond my own feelings.”

SAG-AFTRA members are still on strike as they negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade group representing more than 350 television and film production companies. The actors’ union wants higher wages, better working conditions, and protections against AI encroaching on their livelihoods.

The union has urged [PDF] officials to protect human-created work that would require consent and compensation if an AI “digital replica” is modeled on an actor, or if their performance is altered using the technology. 

“It’s important to understand that all AI-generated content originates from a human creative source. No AI algorithm is able to make something out of nothing. And that human generated content that’s used in the training data reflects real and substantial work and its intellectual property. It deserves legal protection,” Crabtree-Ireland said during the FTC’s hearing. 

Last month, the AMPTP successfully reached an agreement with the Writer’s Guild of America, a union backing screenwriters, who had been on strike for 148 days.

Officials promised to regulate production companies’ use of generative AI, and promised to credit and pay writers if they are asked to create or edit scripts using tools like ChatGPT and to not train on their work without explicit permission. ®



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