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Actors’ union announces deal for AI voice acting licensing in video games

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing more than 150,000 film and TV performers, announced a new deal Tuesday that sets terms for the use of artificial intelligence voices in video games.

The deal with with Replica Studios, an AI voice technology company, establishes protections around the licensing of digitally replicated voices, according to a news release. The announcement was made at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

The deal sets minimum terms and conditions and requires the company to obtain consent before using replicated voices, while also enabling performers to decline the continuous use of their voices in future projects. Replica, which says it is aiming to build “the world’s greatest library of AI-powered voice actors,” would be able to license AI voices for video game development and other media projects.

Ever since it entered the mainstream in 2022, generative AI has been top of mind for industries across the board — including in entertainment and other creative spaces.

SAG-AFTRA’s new contract with the major film and TV studios, ratified in December, also requires producers to obtain actors’ consent and pay them in order to replicate their likenesses with AI. In September, video game voice actors and motion capture performers had voted to authorize a strike if negotiations on a new labor contract failed.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, told NBC News he believes the new agreement with Replica will help bolster trust in the industry among actors who work in video games, but that it constitutes 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 said. “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.”

As for the voices of performers who are no longer alive, Crabtree-Ireland said posthumous deals are possible with the consent of whomever has been designated by the estate to act on the deceased performer’s behalf.

Shreyas Nivas, CEO of Replica Studios, said in a statement that the company is excited to open new opportunities for video game studios that can now access Replica’s AI voice technology without worrying about crossing ethical boundaries.

“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,” Nivas said, “as opposed to the wild west of AI platforms using unethical data-scraping methods to replicate and synthesize voices without permission.”

The future of generative AI — and how it can be used to replace labor — was a crucial sticking point for actors during last year’s Hollywood strikes.

Many who work across creative industries continue to raise their concerns over companies that use AI technology to replicate human work.

In November, a group of artists filed an amended copyright lawsuit against a group of companies that specialize in AI-generated art — among them Midjourney, which was revealed to have used the work of thousands of artists, dead and alive, to train its AI program.

And in recent weeks, OpenAI and Microsoft have been sued for copyright infringement by The New York Times — which claims millions of its articles were used to train ChatGPT — as well as two nonfiction book authors who say they represent a whole class of writers whose work was “systematically pilfered” by these companies. OpenAI has since responded to the Times suit, claiming it is “without merit.”

To Crabtree-Ireland, the difference in this chaos comes down to consent. He said some of SAG-AFTRA’s members have been “mistreated” by companies that have used their likenesses or performances without consent, but deals like the one with Replica aim to provide renewed trust and confidence for these members.

“The fact is, AI tools can be of benefit as well,” he said. “And so, we’re not turning our back on AI. We’re going to leverage AI and use it to help make sure that the commitments that are made in our contracts to our members are fully enforced.”

Some people on social media appeared wary of the news, responding to SAG-AFTRA’s Instagram post with a mix of confusion and frustration.

“We don’t want AI!!!” wrote one user.

“Need more info @sagaftra,” wrote another.



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Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama, a lifelong enthusiast of Artificial Intelligence, has been exploring technology and the digital realm since childhood. Known for his creative thinking, he's dedicated to improving AI experiences for all, making him a respected figure in the field. His passion, curiosity, and creativity drive advancements in the AI world.
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