Disney and Netflix Concede AI Is Not a Person or a Writer, Want to Use It Anyway

Studios also said they will disclose if the materials they're asking writers to work on were generated by AI
Disney and Netflix Concede AI Is Not a Person or a Writer, Want to Use It Anyway
Photo by Vincentas Liskauskas / Unsplash

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the organization representing Hollywood studios in negotiations with the Writers Guild of America (WGA)  that is currently on strike, has conceded that an AI is not a person, or a writer, as defined by their collective bargaining agreement.

“The Companies propose landmark protections for writers surrounding the use of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI),” AMPTP said in a press release. “The Companies confirm that because GAI is not a person, it is not a ‘writer’ or ‘professional writer’ as defined in this MBA and, therefore, written material produced by GAI will not be considered literary material under this or any prior MBA [minimum basic agreement.].”

In practice, what the studios are saying is a writer’s credit, pay, and rights will not be negatively impacted if they work on a project that began as an AI-generated script or idea.

“For example, if the Company gives a writer a [generative artificial intelligence]-produced screenplay and asks the writer to rewrite it, the writer will receive the fee for a screenplay with no assigned material and not a rewrite,” the AMPTP said. “Or, if the Company gives a writer a GAI-produced story as the basis for a teleplay, the writer will receive the story and teleplay rate.”

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The AMPTP also said that it will disclose if the materials it’s asking writers to work on were generated by AI, and has agreed to WGA’s proposal “that a writer may not be required to use GAI in order to write literary material.”

This small concession about AI’s theoretical role in the writing process was just one of several proposals that the AMPTP put forward on August 11. The AMPTP also made proposals on pay, data transparency from streaming, and residuals. As Deadline reported last night, speaking about the proposals as a whole, the Writers Guild has already told members in an email that they included “limitations and loopholes and omissions failed to sufficiently protect writers from the existential threats that caused us to strike in the first place.”

The Guild also clarified that they “engaged in further discussion” with the AMPTP since August 11.

David Slack, a WGA member and former WGA board member, said on Twitter that AMPTP’s press release about this proposal was a “desperate move.”

“Not only are these proposals still inadequate, they are an attempt by the bosses to divide our members, hoping we’ll start arguing with each other over which parts we can and can’t live with,” he said. “Don’t fall for it.”

The Writers Guild did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While it is a small concession, the proposal implies that incorporating AI into the fundamentally human process of telling stories that connect with people is at all tenable or advisable for the studios themselves. Companies have for years tried to use the data they collect on our viewing habits to predict what we’ll want to watch next. These are the same algorithms that power YouTube recommendations, and why we’ve seen attempts like 20th Century Fox partnering with Google in 2018 to train deep learning models on movie scripts to decide which movies they should produce. It is the same logic that dominates Netflix’s offering. But the company’s stock tanked last year, and this year Paramount’s seemingly guaranteed, Tom Cruise-boosted Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, tanked as well.

We don’t know if these types of AI tools can actually help studios, but these concessions from AMPTP show what the Guild, which has been on strike for over 100 days, already knows: they need human writers.