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SAG-AFTRA says strike likely if publishers disagree with AI protections

Negotations are being held up by a lack of consensus on the controversial technology and what it means for voice actors.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

June 13, 2024

3 Min Read
SAG-AFTRA graphic of a hand holding a video game controller.
Image via SAG-AFTRA.

Discussions between SAG-AFTRA and game publishers are still ongoing, with the key sticking point concerning AI and its relation to voice acting. And it's indicated that if things aren't resolved by the middle or end of summer, a strike is happening.

Talking to GamesIndustry, chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and voice actor Sarah Elmaleh (Hi-Fi Rush) explained there's a line "very clearly drawn in the sand" about the Interactive Media Agreement and AI.

Other proposals have been resolved in the near year since bargaining began, but Elmaleh says things have "narrowed" to AI. Everything depends on "whether the bargaining group is willing to extend protections comprehensively to all members and performers within SAG-AFTRA."

Some of the companies, which include Insomniac Games and WB Games, aren't budging on AI protections, said Crabtree-Ireland. Specifically, they're refusing to give protections to all SAG-AFTRA members under IMA contracts, rather than just a specific tier.

"As a union, we're not leaving any of our members behind in the process of negotiating these kinds of protections," he stated. "And frankly, these protections shouldn't be that difficult to agree to. They're basic."

When asked, Crabtree-Ireland and Elmaleh said there's a "very real" chance of a strike in the next month or two. SAG-AFTRA voice actors authorized a strike last September, though the former stressed they're doing everything they can to avoid that.

"We want to exhaust every opportunity to try and resolve these things," he said. "What needs to happen in order for this to move forward and us not to end up on strike...is for [studios] to revisit their resistance and their insistence on sort of splitting off our members and protecting some and not others."

Companies are making AI decisions for everyone else

Over the last year, tech companies have invested into the controversial technology to bring it into everything. From games, movies, and social media, those giants are trying to make it commonplace, often without asking users if it's even wanted.

In mid-May, Marvel actor Scarlett Johansson called out OpenAI for having a replica of her voice despite her refusing their request to use it. Similar consent breaches have hit voice acting through mods and contracts demanding actors sign away their voice rights.

Speaking to the Johannsson controversy, Crabtree-Ireland noted that companies "run a real risk if they underestimate how the public will react to them not treating workers fairly in the context of AI."

To Elmaleh, voice actors doing their job and feeding the technology that'll replace them is "terrifying," and a scenario that "must be accounted for. Some partial coverage has been gained so far there, but it's a question of not leaving anyone behind."

Both are aware that AI will evolve, and with it SAG-AFTRA's terms and contracts tied to the technology. But they also know the best way forward is for companies to collaborate with the union on the technology instead of brute forcing the issue.

Crabtree-Ireland called the current negotiations "challenging," but hopes it won't be like that in the future, "because we can see how there is a path into the future where we work together."

GamesIndustry's full interview with Elmaleh and Crabtree-Ireland can be read here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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