The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA, is an American labour union that represents some 160,000 media professionals. The organisation recently fought for the rights of Hollywood actors in their battle against AI and signalled it would do the same for performers in the video game industry. But even more recently (yesterday, at CES), it announced a “groundbreaking” agreement with an AI voice studio called Replica, which some of the industry’s top talent see as a betrayal.
According to the union, this new agreement “paves the way for professional voiceover artists to safely explore new employment opportunities for their digital voice replicas with industry-leading protections tailored to AI technology.” In addition, moving forward, it will “enable Replica to engage SAG-AFTRA members under a fair, ethical agreement to safely create and license a digital replica of their voice.” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said of the agreement: “We are so happy to partner with Replica Studios because this is a great example of AI being done right.”
The announcement was met with immediate backlash, with one particular passage drawing the ire of voice actors across the industry, that the decision had been “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community.” Steve Blum, who has hundreds of credits to his name, 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?”
Elias Toufexis, similarly prolific and perhaps best known as the voice of Adam Jensen in Deus Ex (but also voiced Sam Coe in Starfield), said: “I would humbly consider myself one of the top voice actors in games. No one asked me about this. No one reached out for my opinion. From what I’m seeing, no one asked any of my peers either.”
SAG-AFTRA members can choose whether or not they want to sign this deal, and there will be built-in safety nets, like consent requirements and the ability to opt out of future use of the digitised version of their voices. But judging from the response to the announcement, it’s an overwhelming unpopular decision which seems at odds with the union’s intent.