SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and Writers Guild of America West negotiating committee member John August recently called for consent, credit, and compensation to be provided to guild members for the use of their work, likenesses, and brands in training artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Speaking at a hearing before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), they joined representatives from various groups to highlight the potential encroachment of generative AI in the media and entertainment industries, and the associated risks of fraud and labor exploitation. The rise of AI tools has sparked concerns among creators, who have been urging policymakers to establish regulations for the technology’s use. While the Writers Guild of America has secured a deal with studios and streamers to protect its members’ credit and compensation, SAG-AFTRA has been advocating for similar terms in its negotiations.
Crabtree-Ireland emphasized the need for legal protection of actors’ intellectual property, arguing that their work, including their likenesses, voices, and performances, deserves recognition and compensation. He pointed out the “double standard” in how studios and other companies could potentially use AI without facing severe legal repercussions, while individuals who infringed on copyright-protected content would face significant consequences. While copyright law does not specifically account for actors’ faces or singers’ voices, some states have laws that protect against unauthorized commercial uses of a person’s name, likeness, and persona. Music publishers are also pushing for a federal right of publicity law to combat voice mimicry in AI-generated tracks, which could extend to actors and other creators.
August highlighted the concerns of writers, who develop unique styles and brands that are now being exploited by AI companies indiscriminately scraping the internet for material. He called this practice “theft” rather than fair use, as the AI companies use copyrighted works without authorization, attribution, or compensation. August also expressed writers’ concerns over AI-generated knockoffs of popular novels being sold on platforms like Amazon, and noted that the WGA’s deal only covers their work for studios, leaving out the companies like Google, Facebook, and OpenAI that are heavily involved in AI research.
Umair Kazi, policy director at the Authors Guild, echoed these concerns, focusing on the use of works by AI companies as training data. He argued that it is unfair to use copyrighted works to create highly profitable technology that can produce competing derivative works without the creators’ consent, compensation, or credit. Kazi warned of the risk of dilution in the market caused by machine-generated books and other works, which can be mass-produced cheaply, leading to a decrease in the artistic and economic value of human-created works.
The potential legal battle between the Authors Guild and OpenAI is crucial for establishing the boundaries of fair use in AI companies’ use of copyrighted works. If authors can demonstrate that AI scraping undermines their economic prospects, such as potential licensing deals, fair use is unlikely to be found. An opt-in system, where creators must give consent for their work to be included in training data, was suggested as a mandatory aspect of any licensing regime.
Speakers at the FTC hearing also raised concerns about fraud using AI tools, such as deepfake ads and the use of AI-generated models to meet diversity goals by modeling agencies. The FTC is taking the rise of fraudulent practices and labor exploitation seriously, as certain companies may be using AI to undermine labor, as seen with studios requiring background actors to scan their likenesses for future use.
Overall, the hearing highlighted the urgent need for regulations to protect creators’ rights and prevent the misuse of AI technology. Consent, credit, and compensation were identified as essential elements for safeguarding creators’ work in the face of AI advances. With the potential legal battle against OpenAI and ongoing negotiations with studios, guilds are working to ensure that creators are fairly compensated for their contributions and maintain control over the use of their intellectual property in an AI-driven era.