Striking Screenwriters Say No to ChatGPT

Maya Pontone
Over 11,500 unionized writers left their offices to join picket lines yesterday, May 2, after weeks of contract negotiations between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Hollywood’s major studios fell through. The walkout marks the first major strike in the entertainment industry in 15 years. But this time, better pay and structural changes are not the only concerns on the table. Since the introduction of generative AI bots, such as ChatGPT, creatives in every industry from advertising to journalism have voiced concerns about potential job displacement. Now, alongside other demands, the WGA strikers are calling for regulations on the use of this new technology in creative projects.  In addition to pay increases and protections for writers working on streaming versus broadcast series, the guild is specifically requesting that “AI can’t write or rewrite literary material; can’t be used as source material; and MBA-covered material can’t be used to train AI,” per a document released by the group on Monday. In response, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) — the trade association representing top studios including Fox, Netflix, NBC, Amazon, Apple, and Disney — rejected the WGA’s proposal. Rather than agree to stay away from AI, the AMPTP offered “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology,” an unclear counter that left many strikers dissatisfied. Today, May 3, dozens of protesters crowded outside Netflix’s Manhattan headquarters in one in a series of pickets scheduled over the coming weeks in New York and Los Angeles. Among them was Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGA East.  “The concern is not that AI will create scripts that are really good, but that it will take away a lot of work. Not just creative control, but actual employment from writers,” Peterson told Hyperallergic. Writers on streaming series typically make less than their colleagues on broadcast TV and work in smaller groups under tight deadlines.  Signs read “No Sleep Till Contract!” and “Don’t Uber Writing.” Outside Netflix offices, WGA strikers and SAG-AFTRA allies marched up and down Broadway, disrupting the usual downtown traffic. On the sidewalk, they chanted in unison, rang cowbells, and carried picket signs with catchy phrases like “Miss Your Show? Let Them Know!” and “Do the Write Thing!” to express their frustration. Drivers passing by showed their support with loud car honks, while other passersby cheered and applauded the protesters. “The [AMPTP’s] response was to not talk about AI repeatedly when we brought it up. And then at the very end, when we pressed that AI was something to talk about, they told us that they didn’t want to talk right now because they don’t want to cut off something they might take advantage of in the future,” said Greg Iwinski, a comedy writer and WGA-East council member. The AMPTP has not responded to Hyperallergic‘s immediate request for comment. Peterson explained that the WGA had attempted to work with the AMPTP, proposing regulations that were not “anti-technology” but rather protective of writers’ credits and compensation. “It’s deeply disappointing that the AMPTP has refused to engage with us in any meaningful way,” Peterson said. “The wording didn’t mean anything,” Peterson continued, in response to the AMPTP’s counterproposal. “Maybe AI generated that.” The first New York protest took place yesterday, when around 200 demonstrators crowded around Peacock’s headquarters during a NewFronts advertiser presentation on Fifth Avenue, Variety reported. A message written on one picket sign at that protest stuck and began circulating online. It read: “Pay your writers or we’ll spoil Succession.” Writers want better residuals for streaming series. Dozens gathered outside Netflix in protest.
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