In a press release, SAG-AFTRA announced that during this year’s annual CES conference in Las Vegas, it had signed a deal with the AI voiceover firm Replica Studios to set the rules of engagement for AI voice cloning, or the replication of a human voice actor’s speech that can then be deployed for various purposes, in video games.
“This new agreement paves the way for professional voice over artists to safely explore new employment opportunities for their digital voice replicas with industry-leading protections tailored to AI technology,” the statement reads, allowing “video game studios and other companies working with Replica to access top SAG-AFTRA talent.”
Though the deal seems to be geared more towards licensing actors’ voices in games rather than outright replacing them, it nevertheless seems like a pretty jarring about-face after the union initiated a work stoppage that grounded Hollywood to a halt for more than three months as actors and their allies picketed for their right not to be replaced by AI.
Though the press release explains that the deal was “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community,” it’s unclear whether that means voice actors voted on the deal or were engaged in a more informal approval process.
In a statement to IGN, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland implied that the Replica deal was not meant to be boilerplate, but rather is a “deal that covers one company, with regard to the development of video games.”
It’s also not clear whether the union at large, which has approximately 160,000 members, had the opportunity to discuss or vote on the deal, and Futurism has reached out to SAG for clarification on that matter.
All the same, online pushback seems to suggest that there may not have been as well-approved as Crabtree-Ireland seemed to indicate.
Veteran voiceover artist Xander Mobus, best known for voicing the announcer in Super Smash Brothers, also expressed incredulity about the deal’s approval.
“Did any of y’all approve this?” Mobus posted. “I didn’t get told we were voting on this. SAG leadership, please, I’m begging you, stop showing your ass and do something to keep us working. Ya know? Your job? You ain’t licensors, you are a labor union! The hell y’all doing!?”
On the one hand, the union’s executive director is right to point out that the deal is narrowly tailored to licensing between SAG-represented voice actors and a single AI company. Nevertheless, it could set a dangerous precedent, not least of which because it seems like a lot of the people impacted by this decision weren’t consulted.
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