SAG-AFTRA has taken a pioneering step forward in its relationship with artificial intelligence (AI) by officially sealing a deal with Replica Studios, a leading AI voiceover studio.
Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the agreement, forged on Tuesday, delineates terms for the integration of AI technology in video games. The union, represented by its executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, disclosed that the terms of this groundbreaking deal encompass informed consent protocols for deploying AI to create digital voice replicas. Additionally, the agreement establishes stringent requirements for the secure storage of digital assets, reflecting SAG-AFTRA's commitment to safeguarding the interests of its members.
Speaking at a press conference, Crabtree-Ireland emphasized the union's proactive stance towards emerging technology, aiming to leverage it for the benefit of performers rather than adopting an obstructive approach. The executive director stated, "This is an evolutionary step forward. AI technology is not something we can block. It’s not something we can stop. That’s not a tactic or a strategy that’s ever worked for labor in the past."
Crucially, this move comes on the heels of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, where the use of AI became a focal point of contention. The union eventually reached a consequential deal with major studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), setting consent and compensation standards for the use of AI to replicate actors' likenesses. Notably, the agreement did not preclude studios from training AI systems to create wholly synthetic actors devoid of any resemblance to real performers.
SAG-AFTRA is currently engaged in parallel negotiations with a coalition of major video game studios, having obtained a strike authorization vote as discussions unfold. Crabtree-Ireland expressed optimism that the Replica Studios agreement could serve as a catalyst for progress in these negotiations, stating, "I hope the video game companies will take this as an inspiration to help us move forward in that negotiation. I’m hopeful we will be able to reach an agreement with the video game studios imminently."
Replica Studios, which introduced its AI platform in 2019, specializes in offering AI voices, sourced ethically, to video game developers. The company's CEO, Shreyas Nivas, mentioned at the press conference that Replica Studios has been actively working for years on standardizing contract language for AI voice licenses.
Crabtree-Ireland underscored that this agreement with Replica Studios signifies a groundbreaking development that could create new employment avenues for voiceover performers seeking to license their voices for use in video games. The focus of the deal is specifically on 'digital replicas,' involving the use of AI to recreate the voice of a real performer, whether living or deceased. It does not extend to AI training for creating wholly synthetic performances.
Notably, in December 2023, SAG-AFTRA members voted 78% in favor of ratifying the contract with the AMPTP, despite opposition centered on AI provisions. Crabtree-Ireland highlighted a key provision in the Replica agreement, pertaining to the secure storage of voice assets, which was not included in the deal with the AMPTP. He suggested that such nuanced inclusions reflect the evolving nature of agreements over time, indicating a conscientious approach to safeguarding the interests of performers in the ever-evolving landscape of AI integration in the entertainment industry.