Strike over? US actors may return to work with top-tier 'progressive AI protections'

Producers will need OK from performers, will pay them to create digi-personas

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors and media professionals, is set to end its near-four-month strike after reaching a tentative deal with TV and film studios over pay and the use of AI.

The agreement forged with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) was approved by the majority of SAG-AFTRA's board, with 86 percent voting in favor and 14 percent voting against the contract. The union, short for Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, said the deal will now be passed onto hundreds of thousands of its members for a final decision.

"We have forged the biggest deal in industry history which broke pattern, established new revenue streams and passed a historic $1 billion plus dollar deal with the most progressive AI protections ever written, I feel pretty confident in saying this is a paradigm shift of seismic proportions!" SAG-AFTRA's President Fran Drescher said in a statement. 

A summary [PDF] of the proposed three-year contract shows that producers need to obtain explicit consent from actors and actresses to generate digital replicas of their face, bodies, and voices using AI. If the performer is dead, they will need permission from the deceased person's representative, or the union itself. In terms of compensation, members can expect to receive a sliding scale of cash that depends on how their deepfake was created.

An employment-based digital replica means that the performer agrees to be subjected to body scans or voice recordings, knowing that their fake AI-generated self will likely be used in footage that shows them doing or saying anything. In this case, they will be paid for their time, including the time that they would have spent on the job acting in person if they had not been replaced by AI.

Union members can also expect to receive residual pay, if their likeness scans are used in additional projects, if they consent. 

Similar rules apply if studios want to create digital replicas of performers by cribbing content from their previous work. Producers may choose to, for example, train a generative AI model on images or videos of a particular actor to create a digital replica of them. They will still need to get consent, but the compensation and royalties rate will be individually bargained in a separate contract. 

On top of restricting AI, SAG-AFTRA also managed to secure better pay, improved pension and health benefits, and working conditions for background actors, hair and makeup designers, and for performers in streaming.

Actors and actresses will receive a seven percent boost in wages, followed by another four percent in July 2024, and another 3.5 percent the year after. The pay bump is larger for extras, who will get an 11 percent increase, and an additional four percent in July 2024, and another 3.5 percent a year later. Meanwhile, those working on streaming projects will be paid bonuses, depending on the number of views their shows attract. 

The new contract is now effective and will remain so during the ratification period until June 26, 2026.

"The AMPTP is pleased to have reached a tentative agreement and looks forward to the industry resuming the work of telling great stories," the trade group concluded in a statement.

"It gives SAG-AFTRA the biggest contract-on-contract gains in the history of the union, including the largest increase in minimum wages in the last forty years; a brand new residual for streaming programs; extensive consent and compensation protections in the use of artificial intelligence; and sizable contract increases on items across the board." ®

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