Writer’s Guild Strike Ends with Agreement on AI

SAG Strike

The strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) that started in May finally ended in late September, after almost 150 days, with a new Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade association that represents over 350 American television and film production companies, including studios and streamers like Netflix and Disney.

One contentious issue in the negotiations was the role of generative artificial intelligence (GAI) in the creation of scripts for movies and television (including streaming shows).

GAI generates works like text, images, music, and videos. As discussed in several previous blogs, including this one, GAI is the subject of contentious debates and lawsuits. Among other things, artists and authors have argued that GAI is being trained on copies of their works that were made by infringing their copyrights and that those copies are being used without their permission.

At the start of the contract negotiations, the WGA sought a deal with the following terms on AI:

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.

Initially, the AMPTP rejected this proposal and countered by offering annual meetings to discuss advances in technology – a position that many WGA members found insulting.

The new contract includes the following points on AI:

Regulate use of artificial intelligence on MBA-covered projects: AI-generated written material is not considered literary material, source material or assigned material under the MBA. AI is not a writer under the MBA.

Writer can elect to use AI when performing writing services, if Company consents and provided the writer follows applicable company policies. Company cannot require writer to use AI software (e.g., ChatGPT) when performing writing services.

Company must disclose to the writer if any material given to the writer has been generated by AI or incorporates AI-generated material.

This is important because a writer hired to rewrite existing literary material is paid less than a writer hired to write an original script. Also, it’s important to human writers to be credited for their work, both for reasons of professional development and reputation and because credits often affect writers’ future income in the form of residuals and otherwise.

Under the new deal,

[The] Guild reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by MBA or other law.

That “other law” is now evolving in the US Copyright Office and in the courts and legislatures, as we’ve discussed.

As The Verge noted,

This means that if the laws change or AI training reaches a point of contention for guild members, the WGA will be able to call that exploitation. This is likely related to proposed laws proposed in California regulating the use of materials for training AI.

As an opinion piece in the New York Times stated,

everyone from autoworkers to white-collar middle managers should be paying very close attention to how this deal was achieved — because it sets a monumental precedent for labor relations in a digital future. …

The W.G.A. contract establishes a precedent that an employer’s use of AI can be a central subject of bargaining. It further establishes the precedent that workers can and should have a say in when and how they use artificial intelligence at work.

The new WGA agreement will be in place from September 25 of 2023 until May 1 of 2026.

Categories: Technology