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SAG-AFTRA strikes deal that lets AI companies replicate voice actors

Replica Studios can access “top talent” under fair agreements

The actors union SAG-AFTRA struck a deal with AI company Replica Studios that lets Replica use AI to recreate actors’ voices for a variety of clients. The news comes from CES 2024, one day after Nvidia and Convai announced plans for AI-generated video game characters. SAG-AFTRA said the deal encourages “fair, ethical” agreements where actors can license their voices for video games and other projects.

“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,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement.

That sounds nice, but there’s a catch: Several prominent actors who the deal does affect said they had no say in shaping the deal.

Steve Blum, who teaches acting and appeared in a range of projects, including Cowboy Bebop to Like A Dragon Gaiden, said on Twitter that he doesn’t know of any actors who took part in this decision.

“You state ‘Approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community,’” Blum said “Nobody in our community approved this that I know of. Games are the bulk of my livelihood and have been for years. Who are you referring to?”

SAG-AFTRA didn’t respond, nor did the union respond to GLHF’s enquiries in time for publication.

“I want to ACT. I do not want to sell someone my likeness to use and then pay me,” Chris Hackney, who voiced Dimitri in Fire Emblem Three Houses and Ayato in Genshin Impact, said on Twitter. “It defeats the purpose of art and performance when neither art is created nor do I perform.”

It also seems to defeat the purpose of SAG-AFTRA’s call to strike in 2023. The union cited companies’ failure to offer protections against AI encroaching on actors’ jobs as a key reason for striking. However, SAG-AFTRA executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said that the union believes a licensing contract is the best way to guarantee actors’ safety.

“With this agreement, we have achieved fully informed consent and fair compensation when it comes to the use of our members' voices and performances,” Crabtree-Ireland said in a statement. “We are proud to work with Replica in leading the way to make it easy for these companies to access SAG-AFTRA’s world-renowned talent in an ethical manner that ensures consent and fair compensation for their contributions. This agreement also paves the way for other companies to follow their lead.”

SAG-AFTRA didn’t provide specifics on how actors could license themselves for use in AI replication, whether licensing fees would earn actors the same amount as they may earn by performing in person, or what restrictions will guide Replica’s use of voice data.