After a five-month strike, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has officially reached an agreement with Hollywood studios.
Writers are officially back at work. And while better residuals, health and pension contributions, and pay increases are unquestionably a big win for the Guild, things get a little murkier when it comes to artificial intelligence.
AI quickly turned into a contentious part of the WGA's negotiations over the past five months, with studios keen on leveraging the technology. The fear, of course, was — and still is — that studios could start replacing human writers with AI technologies like ChatGPT, directly undermining their livelihoods.
As per a summary of the new bargaining agreement published by the WGA, "AI can’t write or rewrite literary material, and AI-generated material will not be considered source material."
In many ways, that's a big win for the union, making it impossible for any writing generated by an AI to be considered literary material, since an AI can't be considered a "writer." After all, that's what the WGA had been demanding from the start.
Interestingly, writers still reserve the right to access these tools, with the caveat that employers such as movie or TV studios allow this kind of use. Studios will also have to tell writers if any materials they're working with were AI-generated.
More importantly, the new agreement stipulates that employers should avoid training AI on writers' material, highlighting growing concerns and lawsuits over possible copyright infringement by companies like OpenAI.
However, the wording doesn't amount to an outright ban, as ABC points out, with the WGA reserving "the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI."
It's a thorny debate, and the conversation surrounding whether companies like OpenAI are actually breaking copyright law by scanning existing works is only getting started.
In other words, the notably vague wording of the WGA's new agreement shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Courts are only beginning to grapple with the legal implications of the tech.
In short, asserting that a writer is being exploited by having their writing be used to train an AI is very different from banning the practice outright, and it remains to be seen whether writers will have legal recourse in those cases going forward.
"As an author, I genuinely want to kiss the feet of the WGA who got the studios to commit that AI isn't writing," author Jennifer Lacopelli tweeted. "Stuff like this tends to trickle down through industries."
"This is good," sci-fi writer James Yu wrote. "AI is a tool that empowers writers, and writers get to choose when to use it."
Now, writers are officially back to work and it's only a matter of time we'll see shows return to TV.
"Welcome to your first day back at work," TV writer Lisa Cullen, president of WGA East, tweeted. "As you fire up your laptops, you do so with more job protections, financial payouts, advancement opportunities and AI guardrails than you've ever had before."
The Screen Actors Guild, however, is still on strike and even voted to authorize a strike against video game companies this week. Where those negotiations will land when it comes to the use of AI remains to be seen.
More on the strike: Screenwriter Union Reportedly Proposes Allowing AI-Written Movies and TV Shows
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