SAG-AFTRA Guards Artist Voices Against AI in New Deal
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Key Insights:

  • SAG-AFTRA deals with music giants to ensure artists’ voices aren’t used without consent, enhancing control over AI-generated replicas.
  • The new agreement includes significant benefits, linking streaming revenue to artist compensation and improving health and retirement plans.
  • Union members will vote on AI-focused terms that distinguish human artists from AI, setting industry standards for ethical technology use.

In a recent development, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has achieved a preliminary agreement with prominent record labels such as Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. This agreement aims to address the evolving role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the music industry, ensuring that artists’ voices are not replicated without permission and proper compensation. The agreement, which is part of the broader “Sound Recordings Agreement” covering the period from 2021 to 2026, still awaits final ratification by union members.

The union, representing about 160,000 actors and media personnel, has worked to include provisions that demand consent and compensation before the use of digital replicas of artists’ voices. The necessity of these provisions has grown with the rise of generative AI technologies that can replicate voices with ease, often bypassing the need for the original artist’s involvement.

Safeguards and Benefits Enhanced in New Agreement

Under the new agreement, terms such as “artist,” “singer,” and “royalty artist” are defined explicitly to refer only to human beings, not AI-generated entities. This clarification is a significant step toward safeguarding the unique attributes of human performances in the recording industry. Moreover, the agreement has successfully negotiated enhancements in health and retirement benefits for union members. Another notable achievement is the expansion of the portion of streaming revenues subject to contributions, which is expected to offer greater financial security to artists in the digital age.

The executive committee of SAG-AFTRA has unanimously approved the terms of the agreement, reflecting a strong consensus on the need for these protections. The union members’ final vote, which will determine the agreement’s ratification, is anticipated to take place in the coming weeks.

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Reaction and Future Steps

The agreement’s focus on AI stems from ongoing discussions and concerns within the entertainment sector regarding the ethical use of technology. In 2023, these concerns were central to negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and major studios, culminating in a contract agreement after months of strikes. This previous agreement, reached in November, set precedents for the use of AI, particularly concerning the creation and use of digital replicas of performers.

In addition to protections in the music industry, SAG-AFTRA has engaged with AI in other areas, such as video games. In January, the union announced an agreement with Replica Studios, which allows for the creation and licensing of digital replicas of actors under fair and ethical conditions. This agreement gives performers the right to consent and negotiate terms directly with the AI company, as well as to opt out of continued use of their voices in new projects.

Industry-Wide Implications and Ongoing Discussions

The entertainment industry continues to adapt to the rapid development of AI technologies. While AI offers numerous benefits, such as cost efficiency and creative flexibility, there is a strong push within the industry to ensure these technologies are not used at the expense of human artists and performers. The agreements reached by SAG-AFTRA are part of broader efforts to manage these changes responsibly and ethically.

As AI becomes more integrated into various aspects of production, from music to film and gaming, the need for clear guidelines and fair practices becomes increasingly important. These developments are likely to set a precedent for how other sectors might navigate the integration of AI technologies with traditional practices, ensuring that innovation does not undermine individuals’ rights and livelihoods. The ongoing dialogue between unions, companies, and technology providers is crucial to achieving a balance between leveraging new technologies and respecting and compensating human creativity and labor.

Editorial credit: blestkater /

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Tom Blitzer

By Tom Blitzer

Tom Blitzer is an accomplished journalist with years of experience in news reporting and analysis. He has a talent for uncovering the key elements of a story and delivering them in a clear and concise manner. His articles are insightful, informative, and engaging, providing readers with a nuanced understanding of complex issues. Tom's dedication to his craft and commitment to accuracy have made him a respected voice in the world of journalism.

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