Monday, July 17, 2023

Why all employers should care about the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes

At midnight on July 14, SAG-AFTRA, the labor union representing 160,000 film and television actors, went on striking, joining their fellow members of the WGA on the Hollywood picket lines. 

One of the key issues in both negotiations in the future of AI in the entertainment industry. SAG-AFTRA claims that the studios want the ability to pay background actors for one day's work use that likeness in perpetuity for any project without consent or compensation, including through the use of generative AI to fully replace the live actor. Similarly, a key sticking point for the WGA is the use of generative AI to write scripts in their entirety, which can then be edited by lower-priced non-union members.

These strikes are about how AI is used in filmmaking. The actors and writers fear being replaced by AI, while the studios are saying, "Trust us, we won't do that." The strikes, however, will continue until the studios put their "trust us," in writing sufficient to assure the unions. In a news conference Thursday, Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA's president said that "artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to creative professions." 

I'll go a step further and say that AI poses an existential threat to workers, period. It not only has the potential to impact any creative professional (actors, writers, artists, journalists, musicians, and the like), but also any professional (lawyers, for example) or even any worker. It's not far fetched to imagine a near future in which AI programs robots to run a factory. 

This is precisely why all employers should be paying attention to the actors' and writers' strikes. Employers, these strikes are about more than when you'll be able to see the next Marvel movie or season of The White Louts. These strikes are about what the future of work will look like. So pay close attention to what happens here. These battles might be coming to your workplace next.