Hollywood’s Desire to Use Dead Actors’ AI Likenesses Hits a Roadblock

SAG-AFTRA building

Major movie studios and actors represented by SAG-AFTRA clashed again this week, with a significant hurdle being Hollywood’s desire to use artificial intelligence-generated (AI) likenesses of deceased actors without their family’s permission.

Variety reports that following the two sides failing to agree on a new contract proposal, language concerning AI was adjusted. At this point, the nearly 120-day-long strike is closer to being resolved. However, revised language aside, it is worth zeroing in on AI, as it has been a major hurdle to ending the strike and is a fascinating topic.

In an article earlier this week, Variety explained that the union claimed that there were “several essential items on which we still do not have an agreement,” including items on AI.

Last weekend, the union fought tooth and nail to get veto power over AI technology used to create digital doubles, minimum pay rates for AI-crafted digital likenesses, and strict consent requirements concerning AI likenesses.

Per Hollywood Reporter, “The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is seeking to secure AI scans for Schedule F performers — guild members who earn more than the minimum for series regulars ($32,000 per TV episode) and feature films ($60,000).”

This means studios would pay for initial AI scans, but there was no language outlining compensation for reusing them. Reports suggest that this issue has been ironed out.

It also connects to the hot-button topic of consent, as SAG-AFTRA wants AI-scanned actors to be consulted about subsequent uses of their digital likenesses. In the case of a living actor, this is simple enough — a studio needs to negotiate something with the person whose AI scan they want to use.

However, for a dead person, the waters are much murkier. A recent proposal’s omission of consent requirements for an authorized representative was a huge stumbling block for the union. It is scary to think about how a person’s likeness, including a very realistic one created by AI, could be used after they have passed away. While an authorized representative is not a perfect stand-in for someone who can no longer consent themselves, it is a far cry from a movie studio being able to do whatever they feel like with a person’s life-like digital ghost. Notably, an actor could direct a representative to never consent to the continued use of a digital likeness upon death.

This situation doesn’t affect only Schedule F performers, either, at least not in the long term. As AI technology continues to improve and digital likenesses get scarily realistic, which feels inevitable, a particularly unseemly studio will undoubtedly be salivating at the prospect of paying pennies on the dollar to replace expensive performers with AI avatars.

There has been considerable talk recently about AI and its treatment of the dead. While it makes sense that some people may want the chance to continue to chat with loved ones who have passed away, the idea of a production company being able to use a person’s likeness for commercial gain and in any way they see fit is very different.

It seems like SAG-AFTRA and the Hollywood studios have come to an improved understanding concerning the use of AI in television and movie creation, and the age of AI zombies wielding virtual weapons or delivering polemic monologues on the silver screen is unlikely to be just around the corner. Time will tell if the AI can has only been kicked down the road or if it will be truly dead and buried.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.