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SAG-AFTRA announces deal for AI voice acting licensing in video games, actors call the agreement ‘garbage’

A union representing at least 150,000 film and TV performers working in Hollywood, Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), announced a deal on Tuesday, January 9, revealing that they have recently signed with an AI voiceover studio that set terms for the utilization of artificial intelligence in video games.

In a formal news release on the union’s website, they confirmed a deal with Replica Studios, an artificial intelligence voice technology company which is described to be an “introduction of a groundbreaking AI voice agreement.” It is expected to establish protections around the licensing of digitally replicated voices.

The deal was also publicly announced during the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas and it is said to contain agreements setting minimum terms and conditions and requiring the company to obtain consent before using replicated voices, while also enabling performers to decline the continuous use of their voice in future projects.

Replica, with its objective of being “the world’s greatest library of AI-powered voice actors” would be allowed to license AI voices for video game development and other interactive media projects from pre-production to final release.

“Approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community, this contract marks an important step towards the ethical use of AI voices in creative projects by game developers, and sets the basis for fair and equitable employment of voice actors as they explore the new revenue opportunities provided by AI,” they said. “In addition to establishing minimum terms and conditions, the agreement ensures performer consent and negotiation for uses of their digital voice double and requires that performers have the opportunity to opt out of its continued use in new works.”

SAG-AFTRA’s new contract was ratified with the major film and TV studios last month. Included in this is a requirement for producers to acquire actors’ consent and pay them to replicate their likeliness with AI. The video game voice actors and motion capture performers are also known to have voted to authorize a strike last September 2023 if negotiations on an updated labor contract failed.

The national executive director and chief negotiator of the union, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland has addressed in an interview that the mentioned latest agreement with Replica will bolster trust in the industry among actors who are currently working in the video game industry and that is a step forward for all performers.

“I think what’s really important about this agreement is the fact that it provides protection for all performers at all levels in the industry,” he responded. “And the fact is a lot of times performers who may not be famous names really need that protection even more, because their bargaining leverage to negotiate those kinds of things individually isn’t as great.”


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For the voice of deceased performers, according to Crabtree-Ireland, posthumous deals are possible with the consent of whomever the estate has designated to act and decide on their behalf.

Replica Studios CEO Shreyas NIvas also said in a statement that the company is excited to open new opportunities for video game studios that are now welcome to access the company’s AI voice technology without worrying regarding crossing ethical boundaries.

She stated, “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 synthesize voices without permission.”

Video game performers’ responses

Generated AI’s future, the uncertainty of its use for labor, and clamoring against AI replacing actors on set were some of the reasons why SAG-AFTRA joined last year’s 118-day Hollywood strike that paralyzed the entire entertainment industry and disrupted major films and TV shows as thousands of people in the mentioned industry went to the picket lines to protest starting from July to November 23 when a tentative agreement was finally reached.

A month after the strike, with a 38% turnout, the union members voted 78% in favor of ratifying the contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Actors won 1 billion dollars (55,914,485,118 php) in new compensation and benefits as well as protections from studios’ use of AI.

Those in contrast with the three-year contract were due to AI provisions, which they said “did not go far enough to protect actors from losing their livelihoods to AI replicas.” For instance, the deal with major studios did not prohibit studios from training AI systems to create “synthetic” actors that bear no resemblance and real performers.

Despite SAG-AFTRA and Replica guarantees of “fully informed consent and fair compensation” for its members, many artists who have been long concerned about the ethical threats of the growing technology expressed their dismay, condemnation, and outrage regarding this recent development.

World of Warcraft voice actor Andrew Russell called it “garbage,” while Shelby Young, who will be lending her voice for the character Yuko in the upcoming RPG video game Persona 3: Reload, said she was “really disappointed” in the union. Voice actors outside of gaming have also criticized the agreement, with Joshua Seth, who voiced Tai in the animated series Digimon, stating that it was a “big mistake,”w hile audiobook narrator Paige Reisenfeld said she was “ashamed” that her union payments went towards it.

Furthermore, Veronica Taylor, who plays the voice of Ash in Pokemon, questioned how the deal was made without being put to a vote as well as widely known veteran voice actor Steve Blum adding that “nobody” he knew of had approved the deal.

Based on SAG-AFTRA’s statement, it is said the deal was “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community” and that it was negotiated by a formed committee that consisted of “actors with significant and diverse experience performing in games.”

Numerous voice actors have already argued that this new deal is in contradiction with the primary goal of the previous strike, even Fallout and Mortal Kombat voice actor Sunil Malhotra saying he “sacrificed to strike half of last year to keep my profession alive, not shop around my AI replica.”

The deal with the guild and AI studio encompasses “digital replicas” utilizing AI only to re-create the voice of a real performer, living or dead. On the other hand, it does not apply to AI training to create synthetic performances.


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