Tensions are high out there for workers who fear being replaced by AI. As we’ve previously discussed, multiple industries are grappling with how to navigate this new technology in a tale that is ultimately as old as time. Our own Michael VanDervort recently wrote about how transparency on the subject can help put workers at ease and ultimately help companies avoid third-party infiltration. After all, unions are keen to pounce upon any worker concern while promising they can vanquish a perceived threat.
So, it’s no wonder that a primary focus of this summer’s historic double-strike of WGA and SAG-AFTRA revolves around the fear that AI could replace writers and actors. As with all things involving California, this outcome could portend how workers, companies, and unions will continue to navigate the issue elsewhere and in other industries.
SAG-AFTRA remains on strike, but WGA has ended their 148-day walkout against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. It’s an outcome that might have gone differently had SAG-AFTRA not joined the “party” in mid-July. The combined pressure of a near-total work stoppage led studios and streaming networks to send their CEOs into several days of intense final negotiations with the WGA bargaining committee.
In the end, a tentative contract surfaced, and writers are now back to work. Will all be well for the workers? As Nancy Jowske recently detailed, the UPS/Teamsters agreement wasn’t as much of a union win as it was sold to be. Is the same true for the WGA/AMPTP agreement on the subject of AI?
The answer is a complicated one. The full 94-page Memorandum Of Agreement covers minimum staffing, pay rates, residuals, and several other issues, but again, we are zeroing in on the AI portion. Let’s pop into a key part of the Summary of the MOA, which ostensibly is what’s being used to persuade WGA members to vote for this agreement:
“AI can’t write or rewrite literary material, and AI-generated material will not be considered source material under the MBA, meaning that AI-generated material can’t be used to undermine a writer’s credit or separated rights.
“A writer can choose to use AI when performing writing services if the company consents and provided that the writer follows applicable company policies, but the company can’t require the writer to use AI software (e.g., ChatGPT) when performing writing services.
“The Company must disclose to the writer if any materials given to the writer have been generated by AI or incorporate AI-generated material.
“The WGA reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by MBA or other law.”
On the surface, this reads like a significant union victory, and yes, this is more of an immediate win (emphasis on the “immediate”) than a loss for writers, but it’s nowhere near a long-term slam dunk.
This summary, unsurprisingly, does not tell the whole story. In the second part of this article, we’ll talk about why that’s the case.