Actors raise concern at “groundbreaking” SAG-AFTRA AI voice agreement

Actor’s union SAG-AFTRA has introduced a “groundbreaking” AI voice agreement to allow voice artists to “safely explore” opportunities for their digital voice replicas, sparking concern among a number of actors.

The agreement is in conjunction with AI voice technology company Replica Studios, and will allow game studios to work with Replica to access SAG-AFTRA talent under a “fair, ethical agreement to safely create and licence a digital replica of their voice”.

A press release from the union states the agreement has been approved by affected members. It establishes minimum terms and conditions, ensures performer consent and negotiation for AI usage, and requires performers have the opportunity to opt out of AI use in new works.

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“Artificial intelligence has dominated the headlines, and for most performers, the best protection against the unauthorised digital simulation of their voice, likeness and/or performance is a SAG-AFTRA contract. We are so happy to partner with Replica Studios, because this is a great example of AI being done right,” said SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher.

SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland added: “With this agreement, we have achieved fully informed consent and fair compensation when it comes to the use of our members’ voices and performances. We are proud to work with Replica in leading the way to make it easy for these companies to access SAG-AFTRA’s world-renowned talent in an ethical manner that ensures consent and fair compensation for their contributions. This agreement also paves the way for other companies to follow their lead.”

Shreyas Nivas, CEO of Replica Studios, also commented: “Our voice actor agreements ensure that game developers using our platform are only accessing licensed talent who have given permission for their voice to be used as a training data set, as opposed to the wild west of AI platforms using unethical data-scraping methods to replicate and synthesise voices without permission.”

In September last year, SAG-AFTRA members overwhelmingly voted in favour of authorising a video game strike. Negotiations to update the Interactive Media Agreement failed shortly afterwards.

Protections around exploitative uses of AI was a major sticking point in the Interactive Media Agreement, which this new agreement appears to address.

However, the response to the news from voice actors has been decidedly negative, despite being approved by affected members.

“Nobody in our community approved this that I know of,” said voice artist Steve Blum. “Games are the bulk of my livelihood and have been for years. Who are you referring to?”

Responded voice artist Kellen Goff: “All voice actors in favour of cutting off this useless, out-of-touch, corrupt jailer of a union in favour of making our own union say aye.”

“So uh…a lot of us weren’t even in the same room when this discussion happened ya’ll. But sure yea makes sense,” said voice artist Autumn Ivy.

Voice artist Thomas Mitchells said: “A disappointing agreement SAG-AFTRA have made regarding AI use. Studios will look past creativity for convenience and this will potentially have a detrimental effect on artists. I wasn’t as concerned before but for the most influential trade union to accept this is troubling.”

The use of AI to replicate voice actors has caused major concern among performers who remain sceptical about its use. Here in the UK, actor’s union Equity has put together a toolkit on AI to assist its members.

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