UPDATED with WGA response.
The Writers Guild of America has proposed allowing artificial intelligence to write scripts, as long as it does not affect writers’ credits or residuals.
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The guild had previously indicated that it would propose regulating the use of AI in the writing process, which has recently surfaced as a concern for writers who fear losing out on jobs.
But contrary to some expectations, the guild is not proposing an outright ban on the use of AI technology.
Instead, the proposal would allow a writer to use ChatGPT to help write a script without having to share writing credit or divide residuals. Or, a studio executive could hand the writer an AI-generated script to rewrite or polish and the writer would still be considered the first writer on the project.
In effect, the proposal would treat AI as a tool — like Final Draft or a pencil — rather than as a writer. It appears to be intended to allow writers to benefit from the technology without getting dragged into credit arbitrations with software manufacturers.
The proposal does not address the scenario in which an AI program writes a script entirely on its own, without help from a person.
The guild’s proposal was discussed in the first bargaining session on Monday with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Three sources confirmed the proposal.
It’s not yet clear whether the AMPTP, which represents the studios, will be receptive to the idea.
The WGA proposal states simply that AI-generated material will not be considered “literary material” or “source material.”
Those terms are key for assigning writing credits, which in turn have a big impact on residual compensation.
“Literary material” is a fundamental term in the WGA’s minimum basic agreement — it is what a “writer” produces (including stories, treatments, screenplays, dialogue, sketches, etc.). If an AI program cannot produce “literary material,” then it cannot be considered a “writer” on a project.
“Source material” refers to things like novels, plays and magazine articles, on which a screenplay may be based. If a screenplay is based on source material, then it is not considered an “original screenplay.” The writer may also get only a “screenplay by” credit, rather than a “written by” credit.
A “written by” credit entitles the writer to the full residual for the project, while a “screenplay by” credit gets 75%.
By declaring that ChatGPT cannot write “source material,” the guild would be saying that a writer could adapt an AI-written short story and still get full “written by” credit.
Such scenarios may seem farfetched. But technological advances can present some of the thorniest issues in bargaining, as neither side wants to concede some advantage that may become more consequential in future years.
AI could also be used to help write questions on “Jeopardy!” or other “quiz and audience participation” shows.
SAG-AFTRA has also raised concerns about the effects of AI on performers, notably around losing control of their image, voice and likeness.
The WGA is set to continue bargaining for the next two weeks before reporting back to members on next steps and a potential strike. The contract expires on May 1.
The WGA did not respond to requests for comment. On Wednesday, the guild issued a series of tweets on its AI proposal:
The WGA’s proposal to regulate use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies ensures the Companies can’t use AI to undermine writers’ working standards including compensation, residuals, separated rights and credits. #WGAStrong 🧵1/7
— Writers Guild of America West (@WGAWest) March 22, 2023
The first tweet sums up the intent of the proposal, which is to regulate AI in such a way to preserve writers’ working standards. The subsequent tweets, however, differ from the language of the proposal.
The entirety of WGA proposal reads: “ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND SIMILAR TECHNOLOGIES: Provide that written material produced by artificial intelligence programs and similar technologies will not be considered source material or literary material on any MBA-covered project.”
The guild’s tweets say something else, referring to how AI material is “used” rather than how it is “considered.” The tweets say that AI material cannot be “used” as source material and that AI cannot generate covered “literary material.” The proposal states only that AI material — if used — will not be considered as literary or source material.
Those definitions are key to determining credit and residual compensation in the guild contract. By excluding AI material from those definitions, the guild proposal would protect writers from losing a share of credit or residuals due to the use of AI software.
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