All summer long, writers and actors led a backlash against artificial intelligence outside studio gates. “AI has no soul,” one picket sign read. “ChatGPT doesn’t have childhood trauma.”
But in the end, the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA embraced a balanced approach to the technology. Both guilds obtained job protections against AI abuse, including consent and protection against diminishment of pay. But their agreements also allow the use of AI tools both in screenwriting and in the creation of performances.
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AI companies have been pleased with the outcome, which sets up guardrails for further development of such tools.
“I’m happy with the agreement the WGA made,” says James Yu, the co-founder of Sudowrite, an AI fiction writing tool. “We believe in the power of the writer to choose whether to use AI or not. It’s all about the agency of the writer.”
The WGA ratified its agreement on Oct. 9. The SAG-AFTRA ratification vote closes on Dec. 5 and some members have said they will vote no because the deal doesn’t do enough to prevent AI-generated actors from taking jobs from real people.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, has said repeatedly that the union’s goal was never to eradicate AI. In testimony before the Federal Trade Commission Oct. 4, he called AI an “essential tool” that could augment human creativity rather than replace it.
As an example, Crabtree-Ireland has cited Flawless, a company that uses AI to facilitate foreign-language dubbing. Traditional dubbing requires changing lines of dialogue to match lip movements. But Flawless changes the lip movements to match the translated script. The SAG-AFTRA agreement does not impede that sort of AI use.
“We’re very pleased with how these things have played out,” says Scott Mann, co-founder and co-CEO of Flawless. “They’ve done a great job of balancing that out. It’s a hard thing to get right. It shows how they understand the space.”
NolanAI, which markets an AI screenwriting tool, also hailed the WGA agreement in a statement, saying it “reflects the harmony between humans and technology.” Khachatur Gharibyan, the company’s founder and CEO, says that the software works like a “script buddy” that can make helpful suggestions for scenes or dialogue.
“We’re not doing anything against creativity,” he says. “We’re helping boost creativity.”
Similarly, Yu sees Sudowrite as “allowing the average writer to have a writers’ room.” He adds: “It’s a collaborator. We’re not here to replace the writer.”
Many software companies are already moving to add “AI assistants.”
Final Draft, the dominant screenwriting platform, does not yet have an AI feature. But the company is “investigating the possibilities of both native tools and AI integrations,” Shelly Mellott, the president of the company, said in a statement.
“We see AI as a potentially powerful tool to help screenwriters break through writer’s block and build worlds and characters through prompts,” Mellott said. “But we acknowledge the dangers that the technology presents for the protection of writers’ work.”
She said the company will adhere to guild rules and consult with well-known writers as it moves forward.
Both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA have expressed fear about members’ work being used to train AI systems. The guilds sought protection against AI training during negotiations but didn’t get it. That issue may yet be resolved by regulation and litigation.
The agreements also include provisions for regular meetings between the studios and the unions, so that they can monitor advances in the technology.
Overall, the agreements are a major landmark.
“It’s giving the definition of what is legitimate use of this technology in Hollywood,” Mann says. “I think we’ll look back at this as a turning point in Hollywood history.”
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