July 13, 2024
Hollywood actors remain on strike, endorse AI 'NO FAKES ACT'


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While the Hollywood writers’ strike has officially ended with new protections against AI in screenwriting, there is no such luck for their creative counterparts, the actors, whose union the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) published a statement today saying talks with the film and TV industry CEOs have broken down, after the CEOs reportedly refused to counter SAG-AFTRA’s proposals for a new contract. SAG-AFTRA had proposed safeguards limiting the use of AI and 3D scanned likenesses of actors.

“It is with profound disappointment that we report the industry CEOs have walked away from the bargaining table after refusing to counter our latest offer,” SAG-AFTRA’s statement, published on its website and social media channels, reads, later elaborating: “These companies refuse to protect performers from being replaced by AI, they refuse to increase your wages to keep up with inflation, and they refuse to share a tiny portion of the immense revenue YOUR work generates for them.”

A new bill offers actors’ hope in controlling AI likenesses

At the same time, SAG-AFTRA today announced its support for a new bill introduced by four bipartisan U.S. Senators — the “NO FAKES ACT” which stands for “Nurture Originals, Foster Art, and Keep Entertainment Safe Act,” from former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar (Democrat from Minnesota), Marsha Blackburn (Republican from Tennessee), Chris Coons (Democrat from Delaware), and Thom Tillis (Republican of North Carolina).

The bill text, uploaded by Deadline, “would prevent a person from producing or distributing an unauthorized AI-generated replica of an individual to perform in an audiovisual or sound recording without the consent of the individual being replicated.”

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That would make it much harder for amateurs and aspiring creators to use AI to generate parodies of leading actors, but it would also help actors maintain control and profit off their likeness. However, the bill still needs to earn a majority of votes from both houses of Congress — the Republican controlled House of Representatives and Democrat-controlled Senate — and be signed by President Biden, to be enacted into law. That could take a while — and it’s far from a sure thing.

Hollywood is in the midst of a collision of two rapidly advancing technologies: 3D scanning and AI

However, as VentureBeat previously reported in our deep dive on the history, present, and future of AI and 3D scanning Hollywood, AI and 3D scanning are two fundamentally distinct technologies. The former is much newer to the industry, but the latter has been used for decades, and was pursued by auteur filmmakers including James Cameron and David Fincher.

3D scans have until recently still needed an actor’s performance anchoring them to look real — with AI, they could be used to perform on their own, adopting the mannerisms of a living human being, or be used to create an entirely synthetic person, as some companies like visual effects studio Digital Domain are researching.

In addition, The Information reported that major stars are also in talks with startups to digitize and 3D scan their likenesses and license them out. One such startup, Metaphysic, recently announced its own PRO tier exactly for this purpose, and it was previously reported by The Hollywood Reporter to be working with Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, and Octavia Spencer.

Interestingly, Tom Hanks and news anchor Gayle King have also posted on their social accounts and issued statements warning their fans that both of their likenesses were being used (separately) in AI-generated videos to shill products without their advanced knowledge nor consent, something that the new NO FAKES ACT would prohibit.

Yet, Metaphysic itself was born out of technology that was used to make unauthorized “deepfake” replicas of Tom Cruise that went viral on the social network TikTok several years ago. There is some irony, though perhaps a predictable one, in the project that started as an unauthorized parody is now going “legit” and earning the business of the very kinds of stars it was founded to lampoon.

What SAG-AFTRA wants

Like the Writers Guild of America (WGA), the union representing screenwriters, SAG-AFTRA has been openly concerned from the beginning of the strike about the growing availability and use of AI and 3D scanning in film and TV, specifically as a way of replacing human labor.

As a letter from SAG-AFTRA’s general counsel Jeffrey Bennett states: “SAG-AFTRA maintains that the right to digitally replicate a performer’s voice or likeness to substantially manipulate a performance, or to create a new digital performance, is a mandatory subject of bargaining. In addition, the use of performer’s voice, likeness or performance to train an artificial intelligence system designed to generate new visual, audio, or audiovisual content is a mandatory subject of bargaining.”

Yet, a number of actors have come forward this year alone stating they were paid only for one or a few days of work as “background” actors or extras, only to be asked to have their full bodies scanned for a 3D likeness that could be used repeatedly without paying them for additional days of work.

In the case of the writers, the concern was about programs like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Sudowrite (trained on GPT-3) being used to draft screenplays, and writers hired to “touch up” or edit said material and ensure it could be copyrighted (due to the fact that the U.S. Copyright Office has repeatedly stated AI-produced work is ineligible for copyright, and that a human creator must be involved for work to be eligible for copyright).

While ChatGPT and Sudowrite are open to the public, in the case of actors, the actual technology behind 3D scanning their likeness is far less accessible — for now. Startups including Move AI are working on AI-driven 3D motion capture with a single smartphone (Move already has its Move One app with this capability being used in beta), which would lower the cost and resources needed to do this immensely.

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