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Some SAG-AFTRA members are concerned about AI provisions in tentative deal

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hollywood performers are voting now on whether to ratify a new contract with major studios and streamers. It took a four-month strike to arrive at this deal which involves a lot of issues, including the use of artificial intelligence. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports that some union members question whether the new contract will protect them.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: One episode of the Netflix series "Black Mirror" depicts a nightmare scenario some performers worry could happen to them in productions that use generative AI.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK MIRROR")

SALMA HAYEK: (As TV Joan) This show, it is using my life, my name, my career.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Character) You assigned them the right to exploit all of that.

HAYEK: (As TV Joan) When? How?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Character) Terms and conditions.

BARCO: Actress Salma Hayek's character discovers her likeness was replicated without her permission.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK MIRROR")

HAYEK: (As TV Joan) What can you do to erase this image from every machine in the world?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Character) Nothing.

BARCO: Under the tentative deal SAG-AFTRA negotiated, actors, dancers, singers, stunt performers and voiceover actors must be able to consent to being digitally replicated.

DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND: Clearly, it doesn't answer every potential question about artificial intelligence and nor could it, but I do think it provides a really robust level of protection.

BARCO: Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is national director of SAG-AFTRA and the union's chief negotiator.

CRABTREE-IRELAND: I understand the sentiments of people who feel that they would like AI not to exist, especially in an artistic endeavor, but the reality is simply trying to block technology from advancing never works.

BARCO: The tentative contract also requires that performers be compensated for their voices or likenesses, but some union members worry there aren't enough safeguards.

SHAAN SHARMA: We knowingly accepted an AI section that we know has loopholes.

BARCO: Actor Shaan Sharma, a regular on the series "The Chosen," was on the union's negotiating committee. He says he's not comfortable with the AI part of the deal. He says the tentative contract does not ban the studios from using synthetic performers instead of human actors, and it doesn't restrict the fakes from being shared or sold to third parties.

SHARMA: They do have to get your consent, but they could get you to agree for a buck to use it, and then that's it. Not everybody has the clout or the team or the wherewithal to be able to advocate for themselves to get what they're really worth.

BARCO: Actress, writer, filmmaker Justine Bateman is also worried. As a former SAG-AFTRA national committee member with a degree in computer science, she's been sounding the alarm for months.

JUSTINE BATEMAN: You'll see. Every single person will be scanned. It'll be like a wardrobe fitting, which is very unsettling that there would be some sort of copy of you floating around.

BARCO: She says it would be up to each performer to legally challenge any unauthorized use of their likeness for what she calls human-looking AI objects.

BATEMAN: The idea that there would be a nose that is yours in particular, and of the billions of people that are on the planet now and the billions and billions of people who have been on the planet and died and have been recorded in YouTube videos in addition to all these films and series, the burden of proving that that's your facial feature, that would be pretty hard.

BARCO: Bateman led an initiative to label films made without AI, and she cautions performers about the new contract.

BATEMAN: There are still going to be filmmakers like myself that are going to go all human all the time, so I recommend they go through it with your agent and your lawyer and understand what you're not protected over and then put those things in your individual contracts.

BARCO: SAG-AFTRA leaders say future contracts will propose even more protections as AI technology evolves. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF IKEBE SHAKEDOWN'S "DRAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.

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