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SAG-AFTRA's "Groundbreaking" AI Agreement Criticized by Voice Actors

Apparently, they weren't aware of the deal.

Image credit: SAG-AFTRA

Just in November, the whole world celebrated the end of actors' strikes when the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) came to a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) after 118 days. 

If you thought the matter behind the strike was over, you'd be mistaken, but a problem came from an unexpected side this time.

At Ces 2024, SAG-AFTRA introduced a "groundbreaking" AI voice agreement with Replica Studios, the creator of the AI Voice Plugin, which states that the studio can "engage SAG-AFTRA members under a fair, ethical agreement to safely create and license a digital replica of their voice." 

This might sound good at first glance, but voice actors were confused and enraged by the news. You see, this agreement implies that they can give the company's AI the right to do their work for them. The licensed voices can be used in a variety of projects from pre-production to final release, so on the surface, it looks like you can do nothing and get paid. However, it creates an issue for less-known professionals: why would you hire them if you can get access to a famous actor's voice? Plus, some people actually like their work and don't want it to be done by someone else.

Another side of the problem is that this might untie some hands: if a huge organization that stands for fair pay and conditions permits the use of AI, this might make some companies feel free to use actors' voices without permission.

Moreover, SAG-AFTRA claims the decision was approved by "affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community," but it seems like no one knows who they were as voice actors express their disdain online.

"I don’t remember voting on this," said Tommie Earl Jenkins. "Does leadership not understand that we actually like working? I don't want my AI replica being used in AAA games. I want to actually work on those AAA games," added Kamran Nikhad.

SAG-AFTRA sees the move as "an important step towards the ethical use of AI voices," which "sets the basis for fair and equitable employment of voice actors as they explore the new revenue opportunities provided by AI." However, not many agree, so I expect it to be undone soon enough.

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