Duncan Crabtree-Ireland Lays Out SAG-AFTRA’s Long-Term AI Fears: ‘You Can’t Know What They’re Gonna Do’

Guild’s lead negotiator gives the pro-strike pitch at San Diego Comic-Con

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland speaks onstage at 2023 San Diego Comic-Con
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SAG-AFTRA’s concerns surrounding artificial intelligence in entertainment are not just about what studios want to do with that technology today, but what they want to carve out the right to do years down the line.

Speaking with TheWrap shortly after a San Diego Comic-Con panel focused on AI, the union’s lead negotiator and second-in-command Duncan Crabtree-Ireland elaborated on the guild’s concerns about the technology, saying that “you can’t know what they’re gonna do.”

“They don’t even know what they’re going to do with something five, 10, 15 years from now. So how can you possibly consent to that?” Crabtree-Ireland said.

To illustrate his point, Crabtree-Ireland used as an example a proposal made during contract negotiations with studios.

When the strike was announced July 13, it was Crabtree-Ireland who said at the press conference that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) wanted the right to scan the likenesses of background actors and retain ownership of those likenesses — including using AI to repurpose them for other films without further compensation — in perpetuity.

But, Crabtree-Ireland said, the studios also proposed something similar for principle performers.

“Another proposal we haven’t talked that much about, but which is equally egregious,” he said, “is a proposal that they can get consent at the time of initial employment for franchise projects.”

“Let’s say someone was going to be in a Marvel movie, let’s say this was their first time ever being a principal performer,” he continued. “They get hired [as a] one-day, three-day player. And they’re required to be scanned as part of that. And then if you want this job, you’d have to agree that you’re giving consent to the use of your image likeness and your digital replica for all future purposes for any Marvel Universe anything.”

He described that scenario as a “dilemma” specific to AI and actors going forward.

“What are they going to do? They can either turn down their big chance to be in a Marvel franchise movie, or they can give this unlimited consent that these companies can just abuse for however long they want to,” he said, adding that that was a proposal that the AMPTP “never backed off of” while negotiating. “It’s obviously something we would never agree to.”

AMPTP has consistently contested SAG-AFTRA’s characterization of the differences between the two groups before talks broke down, most recently in a lengthy rebuttal made public Friday.

In response to TheWrap’s request for comment, AMPTP said, “We stand by our rebuttal.”

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