Hollywood writers partial victors over AI - GulfToday

Hollywood writers partial victors over AI

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) East picket outside Peacock Newfront streaming service offices, in New York City, US. Reuters

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) East picket outside Peacock Newfront streaming service offices, in New York City, US. Reuters

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have reached a draft agreement which is to be ratified by members of WGA. This was preceded by a 148-day strike, which began on May 2. This was a protest against the use of AI in the work of writers, and giving AI the credit. ChatGPT which was put out in the market by OpenAI was seen as a threat to the very existence of writers who produce stories, screenplays and dialogues for films and television series and also streaming content over-the-top (OTT).

This would not only make a creative part of content produced for films and television by writers into an automated process, but also deprive the writers of their rights and labour. The agreement says that studios and production companies will have to disclose if material given to the writers has been generated partially or fully by AI, that AI cannot be credited as a writer, that AI cannot write or rewrite “literary material”, and AI-generated writing cannot be source material. It also says that the writers can use AI if the company consents, but the company cannot require the writer to use AI.

The tricky part of the agreement is that AI has not been excluded completely. Both sides recognize that AI has its uses. The producers are also saying that this will be a three-year contract, and it will be reviewed in 2026 because the legal implications of AI have not yet fully been worked out. It has also been decided that the two sides will meet twice a year in this three-year contract period.

David Gunkel. Professor of media studies at Northern Illinois University and author of “Person, Thing, Robot” thinks that this is the first step in a long process of negotiation in dealing with generative AI. But Barry Diller, owner of digital media company, IAC, is not sure whether the writers achieved what they wanted over AI. He said, “They spent months trying to craft words to protect writers from AI. And they ended up with a paragraph that protected nothing from no one.”

The Screen Actors Guild (SGA)-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) are on strike since July 14, and their concern is over the use of AI to generate images and voices of the actors, especially in the gaming shows, and the need to protect their rights. This is going to be long-drawn battle between human beings and software. It is not the old type of man versus machine contest that was witnessed at the beginnings of the industrial revolution at the turn of the century, and the threat of automation brought by computerization in late 20th century.

The software that AI uses is a much more complicated thing, and it will be hard to pin it down. There is a huge input writing and imaginative stuff that hundreds of generations of writers over the centuries have produced, and all that generative AI has to steal from this near-infinite library of words, ideas and feelings to do the remix, and produce new stuff.

The solution would have to be on the lines that writers and actors should have the control over AI-generated outcomes, and the producers will have to collaborate on this. This will be the good old tussle between the creative writers, artists on the one hand and the producers who put in the money and call the shots on the other. The question is how AI is to be tamed to serve the interests of writers, artists and producers. Whatever the outcome, the primary importance of human beings in the creative process cannot be discounted or diminished.

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