At the heart of the latest writers' strike is a small clause revolving around the use of artificial intelligence.
Specifically, preventing the machines from writing any “literary material.” And as of Monday, studios have rejected the proposal, per the Writers Guild of America West (WGA).
The WGA is one of the largest unions in the world of entertainment, acting on behalf of writers across the United States.
Since the start of the month, over 11,500 writers have traded their pens for picket signs as WGA attempted negotiations to maintain writers rooms, guaranteed employment length, improved residuals amid the rise of streaming services, and, of course, curtailing the use of AI in the industry.
“We’re fighting to stop the streamers and the studios from turning writing from a career into a gig job,” said comedian and writer Adam Conover on the strike’s first day. “They’re trying to take away our jobs and employ us one day a week like we’re Uber drivers. We’re fighting for fairness.”
The strike also takes aim at the rise of artificial intelligence, asking for safeguards against the use of AI in generating content.
The WGA's conditions demand studios “regulate [the] use of artificial intelligence on MBA-covered projects: AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.”
An MBA refers to the minimum bargaining agreement, which covers the benefits and rights of writers within the WGA.
Per the public negotiations, studios have rejected the proposal and countered “by offering annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.”
Regulate AI 'before it’s too late’
The legal implications of AI in the entertainment industry add another layer of complexity.
Leigh Brecheen, a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney at the firm Brecheen, Feldman, Breimer, Silver & Thompson LLP, called it “both a minefield and a new frontier.”
“The legal system isn't designed with AI in mind. For example, you cannot copyright a work that isn't written by a human,” she told Decrypt. “This raises lots of questions about how precious IP can be protected and when the threshold of human vs, AI creation is passed.”
It's easy to forget how rapidly this technology is improving, too. While many scoff at the possibility of AI fully replacing writers, the truth is, no one really seems to know how this will unfold.
The head of the same Hollywood law firm Richard Thompson went as far as asking if the WGA would ever accept an AI as a member of the union.
"I don’t think that will ever happen, but it makes my head spin to think about how it could work and what it might mean,” he told Decrypt. “There is a real risk that in a few years, you won’t need the humans.”
Defining which terms AI should be used are key, said Thompson, lest it becomes “too late.”
While the allure of AI technology is undeniable, it's essential to remember that ultimately, it's human lives that are affected.
“The greatest challenge for all of us is to find ways to retain our humanity. We cannot let ourselves become slaves to any technology or ideology,” he said. “If we focus on human flourishing as our touchstone, we have a chance of getting through these challenges to a better world on the other side."
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