The recent Hollywood writers’ strike, involving over 11,500 writers, has brought to light the growing concern surrounding the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the entertainment industry. As streaming services and studios face ongoing demands from the Writers Guild of America West (WGA), the central issue revolves around safeguarding creative content and the role of AI in generating literary material.
The 2007 writers strike ruined Heroes, Prison Break, and Desperate Housewives. We lost an entire season of The Office and Family Guy. It very nearly killed Lost.
Be afraid, kids. Your treasured shows could be slaughtered because Wordsmiths are yet again not respected. https://t.co/IkPBjA5C6u
— Del Walker (@TheCartelDel) May 2, 2023
The WGA, one of the largest entertainment unions in the United States, has been advocating on behalf of writers across the country. The strike began earlier this month, with writers exchanging their pens for picket signs. The WGA has been negotiating to preserve writers’ rooms, ensure guaranteed employment durations, improve residuals in response to the surge in streaming services, and, most notably, curb AI usage within the industry.
Comedian and writer Adam Conover explained the strike’s importance, stating, “We’re fighting to stop the streamers and the studios from turning writing from a career into a gig job. They’re trying to take away our jobs and employ us one day a week like we’re Uber drivers. We’re fighting for fairness.”
In addition to addressing employment conditions, the strike also targets the rise of AI, urging the implementation of protective measures against the technology in content creation. The WGA’s requirements entail studios “regulate [the] use of artificial intelligence on MBA-covered projects: AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI.” An MBA refers to the minimum bargaining agreement, which outlines the benefits and rights of writers within the WGA.
Despite the WGA’s proposal, studios have rejected the demands, countering with an offer to hold annual meetings to discuss technological advancements.
The legal implications of AI in the entertainment industry introduce an additional layer of complexity. Leigh Brecheen, a Los Angeles-based entertainment attorney at Brecheen, Feldman, Breimer, Silver & Thompson LLP, described the situation as “both a minefield and a new frontier.” Brecheen explained, “The legal system isn’t designed with AI in mind. For example, you cannot copyright a work that isn’t written by a human. This raises lots of questions about how precious IP can be protected and when the threshold of human vs. AI creation is passed.”
The rapid advancement of AI technology also raises questions about its future role in the entertainment industry. Richard Thompson, the head of the same Hollywood law firm, pondered whether the WGA would ever accept an AI as a union member. Thompson shared with Decrypt, “I don’t think that will ever happen, but it makes my head spin to think about how it could work and what it might mean. There is a real risk that in a few years, you won’t need the humans.”
I'm incredibly proud of how transparent our union is. In the @WGAWest's strike announcement, we included a list of our proposals, and the AMPTP's responses. Read it for yourself: it explains in black and white we're forced to go on strike. pic.twitter.com/U2FLsv9Dob
— Adam Conover (@adamconover) May 2, 2023
Thompson emphasized the importance of defining the terms for AI usage to prevent it from becoming “too late.” He also stressed the need to remember the human lives that are impacted by these technological developments, stating, “The greatest challenge for all of us is to find ways to retain our humanity. We cannot let ourselves become slaves to any technology or ideology. If we focus on human flourishing as our touchstone, we have a chance of getting through these challenges to a better world on the other side.”