Under a section titled “Professional Standards and Protection in the Employment of Writers,” the union wrote that it aimed to “regulate use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies.”
“I’m at a loss to think of a union that managed to be plucky and make a go of it,” said Jason Resnikoff, an assistant professor of history at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who studies labor and automation.
The Writers Guild wants to ensure that artificial intelligence does not receive a writer’s credit on a project.Credit...Mark Abramson for The New York Times
The fortunes of the writers, actors and directors negotiating new contracts this year may say a lot about whether the pattern will continue into the era of artificial intelligence.
“I know someone always has to get there first, some company,” said Chris Ciulla, who estimates that he has made $100,000 to $130,000 annually over the past five years narrating books under union contracts.
“We’ve seen this happening — there are websites that have popped up with databases of characters’ voices from video games and animation,” said Linsay Rousseau, an actress who makes her living doing voice work.
The 2018 blockbuster “ Black Panther ” relied on this technology for scenes that depicted hundreds of tribespeople on cliffs, mimicking the movements of dancers hired to perform for the film.
Some actors worry that newer versions of the technology will allow studios to effectively steal their movements, “creating new performance in the style of a wushu master or karate master and using that person’s style without consent,” said Zeke Alton, a voice and screen actor who sits on the board of his union local, SAG-AFTRA, in Los Angeles.
Zeke Alton, a voice and screen actor who sits on the board of the SAG-AFTRA local in Los Angeles, in his soundproof studio booth at home.Credit...Mark Abramson for The New York Times
And Hollywood writers have grown increasingly anxious as ChatGPT has become adept at mimicking the style of prolific authors.
The guild also wants to ensure that studios can’t use chatbots to generate source material that is adapted to the screen by humans, the way they might adapt a novel or a magazine story.
SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, says more of its members are flagging contracts for individual jobs in which studios appear to claim the right to use their voices to generate new performances.
A recent Netflix contract sought to grant the company free use of a simulation of an actor’s voice “by all technologies and processes now known or hereafter developed, throughout the universe and in perpetuity.”
The union has said that its members are not bound by contract provisions that would allow a producer to simulate new performances without compensating actors, though it has sometimes intervened to strike them from contracts nonetheless.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s executive director, said such contracts posed a much bigger risk to nonunion actors, who can become unwitting accomplices in their own obsolescence.