Hollywood is Back to Work After Strikes, But AI Remains in the Spotlight


While the Hollywood strikes might be over, the collective bargaining agreements reached between studios and actors and writers have surfaced a host of complex concerns involving the use of generative AI.

“Negotiations are not a shopping spree—you don’t get everything you want, as everyone here has said,” said Jonathan Handel, a transactional enter­tainment and technology lawyer at Feig Finkel and contributor to Puck News, of the agreements. “I think this is going to be a very difficult issue once again in two years and, not to mention, in two minutes with AI.”

Handel was a guest speaker at a panel at the Fordham Media and Entertainment Law Society (MELS)’s ninth annual symposium, held on January 19, which explored the agreements and thorny legal issues related to technological advancements impacting Hollywood. MELS is a student-run organization that is active in the entertainment community at large and is dedicated to supporting students passionate about the law and business of film, music, publishing, art, theater, and digital and interactive media. The annual symposium brings leaders and experts to Fordham Law to speak on cutting-edge developments in the media and entertainment industries.

Given the lack of regulation around AI and its increasing usage in the entertainment industry, the novel technology was one of the two primary issues that writers and actors focused on last year during the nearly six-month-long strike. Writers sought guidelines for the use of AI in writers’ rooms; performers sought protections from the use of AI and provisions on how it could be used to replicate their faces and voices, among other demands during their respective negotiation processes.

However, television writers were already feeling “really squeezed” prior to the launch of ChatGPT and other AI tools in late 2022, according to panelist Erica Saleh, TV writer and member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) East Council and WGA 2023 Negotiating Committee. She highlighted how streaming business models that feature shorter seasons, for example, have severely cut writers’ gigs and impacted long-term career stability. She also noted the wins gained by writers as a result of the new deal made in November 2023. 

“Performance-based residuals and AI protections were, I think, the two big things that the studios were not budging on until we went on strike,” Saleh explained. “Now, AI cannot replace a writer anywhere on the payment chain. So, if a studio uses AI to create a story, the studio still has to pay a writer to have created that story—even if the studio hands me a story and says, ‘We want you to write this.’”

Actor and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) New York Local President Ezra Knight told the audience that SAG-AFTRA has agreed to meet every six months to discuss the progressions of AI implementations and how they can be improved upon. He also believes the latest deal, and the accomplishments gained by the labor union, could be used as a model for other groups seeking new deals. “It’s an interesting moment right now that’s going to launch forward and affect other unions who are going to look at this and take this model forward for their negotiations.”

Other panels at the symposium discussed AI and copyright in the music industry and liabilities and legalities in film and video production.


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