Why are Screen Writers Striking and How Will this Strike Impact the Future Use of AI?

Posted Wednesday, July 19, 2023 by Jesse Breuer in AI, AI & Intellectual Property

This Article uses 0% AI-Generated Material

On May 2, 2023, The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) went on strike. Their last strike was in 2007 and pertained mostly to streaming rights of a writer’s work, in the form of residuals. In the current strike, concerns about the use of AI are front and center, in a landscape already permanently altered by years of streaming content.

The writers want the type of job security that makes living in Los Angeles possible. Their works are often removed from streaming services, cutting off sources of residuals, usually for budgetary reasons, and without warning. There is currently no transparency from streaming networks on the number of streams a show or movie receives.

While streaming is the cause of many of the current financial difficulties, it also makes striking seriously less effective. Viewers today have access to such a backlog of streaming content that the lack of new content is mostly not even noticed, beyond the late night comedy shows that stopped almost immediately.

What Protections Do Screen Writers Want Around AI?

With regards to AI use, The Screen Actors Guild, SAG/AFTRA already has a clear cut agreement, that:

  1. An actor’s likeness cannot be used by AI without the actor’s permission, and
  2. The actor must be compensated for such use.

The Writers Guild wants to ensure:

  1. That AI will not be used to write or rewrite scripts.
  2. That the writers will not be required to edit and rewrite AI-generated scripts
  3. Their work will not be used to train AI, to for example “write a script in the style of…” or to use their past scripts in a knowledge base used to train generative transformer models.

What the WGA is seeking is not an outright ban on the use AI in the industry, but a set of guardrails.

Agreeing to this would not cost the studios anything now, but writers are seeking guarantees about the future. If these guarantees are granted (and they should be), we believe they will have a ripple effect beyond the entertainment industry.

The studios are clearly waiting to see what AI can do and are reluctant to offer any such security.  The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, AMPTP has offered a fairly non-commital statement: “It’s something that requires a lot more discussion, which we’ve committed to doing.”

Unwillingness to outline policies against generative AI tools has led to a stalemate.  The reason that the lack of agreement to terms is so conspicuous, is that Hollywood has a history of agreement about new media rights, in advance of the use of the new media. The Three Stooges did not get compensated in their lifetime for their short films being replayed on television. Their contracts were only for the making of the original short films, and for this reason, contracts which predict the potential use in upcoming new media sources are now the norm.

In this writer’s opinion, writing for characters in screenplays is something best left exclusively in the hands of human writers, primarily because people, characters, do not perceive or respond to situations in a logical way. How a person reacts in a situation is largely based on that person’s past experiences, and the background of living as a being on earth--life experience--is necessary background to make this believable.

What’s the Future of the Entertainment Industry?

If AI can make writing obsolete, what about the entire studio system?

Will we eventually, just give our cable boxes a prompt to generate AI-based visual entertainment[PS1] ?  Caleb Ward, an AI filmmaker with the studio Curious Refuge stated in a CNBC interview:

 “It’s going to be very soon until we can literally just type in a prompt and see something, as a consumer, and you don’t have to have any sort of skills as a visual effects artist, or as someone in the entertainment industry.

 This is the scariest outcome of all for the studios, writers, and actors.

Perhaps in the future some hybrid model will exist with both writing and acting being, at least to a degree, AI-generated. Will streaming media of the future contain a “% of AI-generated content” in the same way that we label the content of recycled material in packaging?