Hollywood actors secure safeguards around AI use on screen

FILE PHOTO: Premiere of "The Boy and the Heron" at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

By Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Movie studios must obtain permission from actors to use their images in material generated by artificial intelligence (AI), and pay performers whenever their digital doubles appear on screen, under the labor agreement that ended a 118-day strike.

Actors secured these new safeguards as part of a deal announced late on Wednesday, according to Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator for the SAG-AFTRA actors union.

Under the three-year contract, actors "have this right of consent, and the right to fair compensation anytime some sort of digital replica or replacement of them is used," Crabtree-Ireland told Reuters.

The proposed agreement sets a minimum compensation level for AI uses, Crabtree-Ireland said. Actors also are free to negotiate higher payments.

Full details of the new contract will released after SAG-AFTRA's national board votes on the proposal on Friday, the union said. Then, the deal will go to union members for ratification.

Film and television performers have viewed AI as an existential threat, fearing they would be replaced by digital versions of their own likenesses or "metahumans" created by AI. Background and voice actors, in particular, worried they would lose work to synthetic performers.

Crabtree-Ireland said the proposed contract also included safeguards around the use of generative AI to create synthetic actors.

"There are important protections of consent and compensation around those types of uses as well," he said, though he did not provide details.

AI technology already has been used to erase age lines or substitute pieces of dialogue, raising concern that a studio might put words in an actor's mouth that they did not approve.

The issue emerged as a major sticking point for SAG-AFTRA, the union representing about 160,000 actors, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other performers, and was one of the last topics to be resolved, Crabtree-Ireland said.

"We have finally, with the changes that have been achieved over the last few days, reached a place where we can feel confident that our members do have guardrails," Crabtree-Ireland said.

"Those guardrails are set up in such a way that even as the technology develops, that those protections will develop along with it," he added.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the group that negotiated for Walt Disney, Warner Bros Discovery, Netflix and other major studios, said the contract offered "extensive consent and compensation protections in the use of artificial intelligence."

Technology executives who do business in Hollywood say studios have been waiting for the industry to establish ground rules around the use of AI before they fully explore new uses.

"They are being ultra cautious," said Scott Mann, co-CEO and founder of Flawless, a company that uses AI for film dubbing and editing. "But they're recognizing that there is massive benefit and, from a revolutionary point of view, this can be incredibly powerful to the industry."

Film and television writers also won protections around AI use after a five-month-long strike by the Writers Guild of America this year. Among them, studios must disclose to a writer if any materials were generated by AI.

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Bill Berkrot)