Hollywood Writers Win Promise: No Robots Will Get Screen Credits

Hollywood screenwriters obtained one of the first contracts to govern the use of artificial intelligence as a result of their five-month long strike.

(Bloomberg) — Hollywood screenwriters obtained one of the first contracts to govern the use of artificial intelligence as a result of their five-month long strike.

Major Hollywood studios, including Walt Disney Co. and Netflix Inc., have agreed that AI “is not a writer,” according to a summary of the new three-year labor agreement distributed by the Writers Guild of America. Writers can elect to use the technology, but can’t be required to do so. The studios have to disclose if any material given to writers was generated by AI.

The writers did lose on one negotiating point: Studios are free to use existing scripts to train AI software. The issue was one of the last points negotiated, with the employers insisting they couldn’t accept restrictions that no other industry had agreed to, especially with copyright law still unclear on the subject, according to a person familiar with the discussions who asked to not be identified.

The guild, with some 11,500 members nationally, went on strike May 2, seeking higher pay and other changes to their work rules. The union wanted to make sure that AI couldn’t be used to take their jobs away.

The studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, originally offered only annual meetings to discuss advancements in the technology, the union said in May.

The media companies came back with a new proposal in August, guaranteeing that a writer’s pay, screen credits and other rights wouldn’t be impacted by the use of AI. For example, if a writer were given an AI-generated script to work on, that individual would be paid as if it were a regular job and not a lower-priced rewrite. 

The new contract must still be approved by the guild’s members, who are expected to conclude their voting by Oct. 9. In the meantime, they are allowed to go back to work.

The 146-day work stoppage cost the US economy more than $5 billion, with half falling on California, according to the Milken Institute, a think tank.

Prominent screenwriters expressed concern that the rapidly developing AI technology could be used to write scripts, taking work away from humans.

“Plagiarism is a feature of the AI process,” the guild wrote in March on X, formerly known as Twitter. One picket sign read: “A robot never made me laugh.” 

AI-powered models like ChatGPT and Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion are increasingly common in creative enterprises. The tools can generate ideas or draft material for finished products.

“The question becomes, how do you balance safeguarding the jobs and livelihoods of people and also adopting new technology that can make the work more streamlined?” asked Francesco Marconi, chief executive officer of the AI journalism company AppliedXL.

Current AI language models excel at creative writing, he said, but they will always need human supervision. 

Marconi describes the tools as “free intellectual energy” that can shorten the time frame for writing while potentially removing some of the human elements viewers might relate to. 

The Screen Actors Guild, which embarked on its own strike in July, has also made AI part of the negotiations. Recently, the technology was used to de-age Harrison Ford for the latest Indiana Jones movie and re-create Anthony Bourdain’s voice in a documentary.

Actors want to ensure they retain the rights to their likenesses and can consent to how data collected from their performances are used. The Animation Guild will begin negotiating its contract in the summer of 2024. A spokesperson said that it will be its first opportunity to address the issue.

Video-game performers are also seeking curbs on the use of the technology in their new contract discussions. The Directors Guild of America in June signed a contract that included language on artificial intelligence, though that group is less threatened by the technology.

“Consent, compensation and clarity have been missing from the equation up until now,” said Scott Mortman, an adviser to the National Association of Voice Actors and an attorney who works with AI firms. “That has to change and that will change.”

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