Following a five-month-long strike, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has settled its dispute with Hollywood studios, resulting in a new agreement. Effective Wednesday, this contract allows writers to return to their jobs under newly established conditions.
During this unprecedented strike, the role of artificial intelligence (AI) became a significant issue between the writers and the studios. Although text-generating AI tools, such as ChatGPT, are currently creatively limited, there were concerns that studios would leverage these rapidly evolving tools to bypass paying union members.
The rise of AI in Hollywood and the impact on writers.
Comedy writer Adam Conover expressed his apprehensions at the start of the strike. He stated that his concern was not about the technology but how companies might exploit this still-imperfect technology to undermine writers’ working conditions.
With improved residual payments, minimum writers’ room staffing, and other terms supporting screenwriters’ livelihoods, the new WGA contract also specifies limitations on AI usage in the writers’ rooms.
AI and the New Agreement
According to the agreement, AI cannot be employed to write or rewrite scripts, and AI-generated writing cannot be regarded as source material. This provision safeguards writers from losing writing credits to AI. On an individual basis, writers are free to use AI tools. However, studios cannot enforce the use of specific AI tools in a production. They must also inform writers if they are given any AI-generated materials to incorporate into their work.
The WGA’s contract summary asserts that the guild reserves the right to state that the agreement or any other law prohibits using writers’ material to train AI. This is a gray area in the legal relationship between large language models and copyrighted material.
While federal and state laws are catching up, the WGA’s bargaining agreement clarifies that union members do not consent to their work being used to train studios’ AI systems.
AI Concerns Beyond Writing
Concerns about AI are not limited to writers. The actors union, SAG-AFTRA, is still on strike, and its members have recently voted in favor of a strike against the video game industry. SAG-AFTRA, which represents stunt, motion capture, and voice actors in video games, has also voiced concerns about the potential misuse of AI to undermine the creative work of its union members.
The website for SAG-AFTRA cautions that companies may attempt to scan their members or use their voices to train AI upon arrival at work, which could result in a performer losing their first job. It is still being determined how SAG-AFTRA members’ contracts will be negotiated. Still, the WGA’s agreement provides a basis for imposing restrictions on the use of AI in creative professions.