Strikes in Hollywood Highlight the Need to Safeguard Creative Rights in the AI Era

December 11, 2023

Julie C. Hancock

At long last, we have emerged from a historic moment in the entertainment industry to see both the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) secure major contractual victories. Dual strikes by writers and actors are incredibly rare. The writers' strike spanned 146 days, while actors held out for 118 days before reaching an agreement on November 9th.

In agreement with both unions’ demands, these strikes shut down almost all production aside from projects by independent studios. At the heart of these strikes were two contentious issues: the fast-increasing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in entertainment and the challenge of royalties in the age of streaming platforms.

Writers and Actors Secure Protection Against AI

The WGA and SAG-AFRA ratified contracts with language protecting creatives against the use of AI in productions. Writers secured language that prevents AI-generated scripts from being classified as literary works, alongside restrictions on compulsory AI use in scriptwriting. However, the agreement stops short of barring studios from using human-generated content to train AI programs.

Actors garnered more substantial protections, mandating written consent for any use of an actor’s likeness, from A-list stars to background characters, in creating AI personas. This consent must be obtained at the point of AI usage, not preemptively through up-front contracts.

For both unions, these protections address the growing fear among creatives of AI replacing human talent. These are winning steps for the industry despite not securing all sought-after protections. The emergence of AI is a central issue for the rights of creatives and raises ongoing concerns about its impact on the industry and job security.

Streaming Royalties Pass on to Writers and Actors

In another landmark achievement, writers and actors will receive enhanced residuals from streaming productions. This is an issue Gilmore Girls star Sean Gunn pointed to when noting Netflix’s massive success with the show did not produce higher royalties for the actors.

Writers will receive higher initial compensation for streaming projects and additional bonuses linked to streaming success benchmarks.

For actors, a new fund financed by streaming platforms is being established. Most of the fund (75%) will be used to pay additional bonuses to actors involved in successful streaming content, with the remaining 25% being used at the union's discretion.

This shift addresses a long-standing imbalance, where streaming giants generated significant profits without adequately compensating the creatives responsible for the content. The new contracts rectify this by ensuring writers and actors receive a fairer share of the streaming revenue. Streaming is here to stay, so it’s crucial that a more modern payment structure is established.

Your Virtual Advocate Celebrates Win for Writers and Actors

While these new contracts don’t include every protection sought by both unions, they represent significant victories for writers and actors. The creative space needs victories like this to move the industry toward a more modern structure with protections against advancing tech.

The agreements underscore the undeniable contribution of creatives to our cultural and artistic worlds. They bring life and color to the media we consume, shaping our experiences and perceptions.

However, vigilance remains essential, and the industry must keep diligent to ensure that studios and executives comply with these new agreements and do not circumvent these hard-won protections.

Creatives need to protect their work against the challenges posed by artificial intelligence and to secure fair compensation for their contributions. If you are a creative looking to protect your work from artificial intelligence and to get properly paid for what you've created, contact Your Virtual Advocate today.

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