Hollywood Writers’ Strike Tests Limits of AI Use, Ownership; Actors are Threatened, Too

Using existing scripts protected under copyright to train Generative AI to draft new ones are at the center for the battle in the ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike. The writers and the studios are concerned they may wind up on the wrong side of law that has yet to be written.

“The writers’ strike was initially about compensation in an era of streaming services,” reports the New Scientist. “Now, the role of AI has also become a major point of contention in negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and companies such as Disney and Netflix.”

Who owns the output of AI and when and how much should creators and content-owning businesses be compensated for use of their copyrighted material? These are questions that need to be answered. Unfortunately, they may not be for years.

Tool or Substitute?

Part of the writers’ disagreement revolves around a WGA proposal to ban the industry from using AIs such as ChatGPT to generate story ideas or scripts for films and shows – the union wants to ensure that such technologies do not undermine writers’ compensation and writing credits.

“The fear is that AI could be used to produce first drafts of shows, and then a small number of writers would work off of those scripts,” says Virginia Doellgast at Cornell University in New York.

There are many important unanswered questions surround generative AI’s potential risks. “In many cases,” reports the Wall Street Journal in an insightful article, “how intellectual property rules apply to these tools is unclear or in litigation: If a user prompts an AI tool to build a new character influenced by say, ‘SpongeBob,’ should the original creators have to grant permission? Who owns it? Can the new work itself be copyrighted?”

It is becoming clearer that IP owners and businesses will need bots to monitor the activities of the generative AI bots, like Microsoft’s ChaptGPT and Google’s Bard. It is important to know from where are they getting data on which their responses are based; is it accurate; and has it been acquired legally, i.e. has it been paid for? As the recent Wharhol Foundation Case against photographer Lynn Goldsmith proved, fair use has significant limitations, which are often ignored and poorly defined.

Easily Fooled

Generative AI is now available to anyone, and it is increasingly capable of fooling people with textaudioimages and videos that seem to be conceived and captured by humans, reports The New York Times. The risk of societal gullibility has set off concerns about disinformationjob lossdiscriminationprivacy and broad dystopia.

A Tom Hanks and Robin Wright film that is in production, titled called “Here,” uses tools from AI company Metaphysic to make the actors look younger. The technology changes the actors’ appearances in real-time, allowing filmmakers to see how they appear during shooting.

AI can also mimic or change a celebrity’s voice. James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader in “Star Wars” movies, allowed Walt Disney Co.’s Lucasfilm Ltd. to create an AI version of his voice from archived recordings with the help of Kyiv-based Respeecher Inc. The voice was used in the Disney+ TV series “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Cost Savings

“You’re doing it cheaper, faster, better” with generative AI, said Michael Blank, head of consumer investing at talent agency Creative Artists Agency.

Metaphysic operates a TikTok channel that features parody videos using its technology to create a young Tom Cruise look-alike (above) to promote its services, says the Journal.

Mr. Graham said the company reached out to the actor and his representatives but hasn’t been told to stop making the videos. A spokeswoman for Mr. Cruise declined to comment.

Image source: GettyImages via New Scientist; Metaphysic

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