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Video Game Voice Actors Criticize SAG-AFTRA Over Agreement With AI Company

Topline

Voice actors are taking to social media to criticize SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors and other entertainment professionals, for an agreement it struck Tuesday with an artificial intelligence company that would allow video game developers to use digital replicas of actors’ voices.

Key Facts

SAG-AFTRA announced Tuesday it signed a deal with Replica Studios, an artificial intelligence voice technology company, for the licensing of actors’ voices for use in video games.

The union stated the agreement will “enable Replica to engage SAG-AFTRA members under a fair, ethical agreement” to create and use a digital replica of actors’ voices for video game development and other interactive media projects.

The union said the agreement will ensure performer consent and negotiation for the use of their voices and will provide performers the ability to opt out of the use of their voice in new works.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said the agreement is “a great example of AI being done right,” though the use of AI at all has remained controversial among both screen and voice actors.

SAG-AFTRA stated the deal was “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community”—but many voice actors posted grievances on X, claiming they weren’t informed of, and did not agree to, the deal and opposed the potential use of AI to replicate their voices.

Chief Critics

Voice actor Steve Blum, known for roles in “Cowboy Bebop,” “Mortal Kombat” and “God of War,” responded to the union’s X post about the agreement, stating: “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?” Greg Baldwin, a voice actor from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” said the union “betrayed” voice actors in an X post, adding he would refuse to sign his own “pink slip.” Samantha A. Morrison, a voice acting casting director, accused the union of “straight up spreading lies” over its claim the agreement was approved by voice performers. “No voice actor would willingly approve this. AI has no place in voiceover, or the arts in general!” Morrison posted on X. Veronica Taylor, whose voice credits include Ash Ketchum in the “Pokémon” anime and Cosmos in the “Final Fantasy” video game franchise, questioned how the agreement passed without notice or a vote among SAG-AFTRA members, stating: “Every job brings a unique opportunity for an actor to …act. Encouraging/allowing AI replacement is a slippery slope downward.”

Key Background

SAG-AFTRA has reportedly been locked in negotiations with major video game companies since 2022, largely concerning compensation for voice actors and protections over the use of artificial intelligence. In September 2023, 98.32% of SAG-AFTRA members voted in favor of authorizing a strike against 10 video game companies, though a work stoppage has not yet occurred since the vote. At the time, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said the game companies were not “willing to meaningfully engage” after five rounds of negotiations and threatened a strike.

Crucial Quote

“At this point, I can’t tell what drives your actions more: direct malice, shortsighted greed, or sheer incompetence. Regardless, you’ve failed us yet again, @sagaftra,” Damien Haas, a voice actor known for roles in “Fortnite” and “Halo,” posted on X.

Tangent

The core issues concerning the voice actors’ negotiations with video game studios mirror the negotiations between screen actors and major Hollywood studios, which resulted in a nearly four-month strike that concluded in November. The strike, which overlapped with a writers strike and halted many film and television productions, ended when SAG-AFTRA secured a contract that reformed residual payments and established protections for the use of AI in film. But some actors felt the AI protections didn’t go far enough, criticizing a clause that allows studios to use nonhuman “synthetic performers.” Actress Justine Bateman, who advised the SAG-AFTRA negotiation committee on AI, expressed concerns over potential loopholes in the contract, including an exception for studios to use an actor’s digital double without consent when the project is “comment, criticism, scholarship, satire or parody, a docudrama, or historical or biographical work.” Drescher condemned opponents to the contract as “naysayers who have exploited this momentum of ours.”

Further Reading

SAG-AFTRA Signs Deal With Voiceover Studio for AI Use in Video Games (Variety)

SAG-AFTRA and Replica Studios Introduce Groundbreaking AI Voice Agreement at CES (SAG-AFTRA)

SAG-AFTRA Members Vote in Favor of Video Game Strike Authorization (Variety)

Here’s Why Some Actors Oppose The SAG-AFTRA Artificial Intelligence Deal (Forbes)

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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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