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WGA, AI and IP: Leading Roles in the Hollywood Strikes

In true summer blockbuster fashion, the recent labor union strikes in Hollywood contained no shortage of Oscar-worthy drama. With plot twists, surprise turns, cliffhanger endings and shocking reveals, the saga embroiled the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for nearly five months, putting big- and small-screen productions on hold. 

With more than 11,500 writers walking the picket lines, driven by a need for better pay rates, residuals and more control over content in emerging streaming platforms, studios faced a creative drought of new scripts. Seeking leverage to end the impasse, studios hinted at an alternate source: artificial intelligence (AI). Could AI step in to generate scripts, reducing producers’ reliance on human writers? 

Though the WGA strike has officially rolled its closing credits, it’s not quite the loose-ends-all-tied-up-Hollywood ending normally dredged up in Tinseltown. In fact, it opens the doors for sequels in this proverbial saga, shedding legal light on uncharted territories of intellectual property (IP) rights. 

From Impasse to Resolution

The conclusion of the WGA strike brought about a new contract agreement with studios — a significant step towards addressing the uncertainties surrounding AI’s role in the scriptwriting process. Key elements include:

  • AI-Generated Storylines will not be regarded as literary material, a term used in contracts for scripts and other story forms a screenwriter produces. This means human writers won’t be competing with AI for screen credits.
  • AI as Source Material: AI-generated stories won’t be considered as source material, either, a contractual term for novels, video games or other works that writers may adapt into scripts.
  • Use of AI by Writers: The agreement gives writers the right to use AI in their process if the company they are working for agrees, and other conditions are met.
  • Mandatory AI Use: The contract stipulates that companies cannot require a writer to use AI.

AI in Script Generation: Uncharted Legal Territory

Despite this new agreement providing some foundational clarity, the intersection of AI and scriptwriting remains a complex legal territory. With its capacity for learning and as an AI content generator, questions of potential copyright infringement arise, especially when AI is trained using copyrighted material. This scenario underscores the importance of robust IP strategies and the need for comprehensive legal guidance.

Copyright Infringement Traps

Copyright law safeguards original creative works fixed in a tangible medium. For a work to garner protection, human authorship is required. AI, by its very nature, lacks personhood, so its raw output would reside in the public domain free for anyone’s use. As such, studios wouldn’t be able to legally copyright AI-generated scripts outright. 

But they may try to skirt around authorship requirements by claiming that human editing of an AI draft constitutes an original work. However, if AI generates the majority of the creative substance, disputes could arise over whether enough human input occurred to warrant copyright eligibility. AI learns from ingesting vast data, including copyrighted scripts. If an AI system mimics protected elements in generating new scripts, infringement allegations could arise.

Studios could also potentially argue fair use privileges, which allow limited uses of copyrighted works for purposes like commentary, criticism and news reporting. But commercial scriptwriting falls outside typical fair use categories. Overall, unauthorized use of copyrighted scripts to train AI systems treads into legally questionable territory.

Quality and Legal Implications

The increasing use of AI in the creative process also raises several ethical questions.

The quality of AI-generated content remains a contentious issue. While AI can churn out vast amounts of content, it remains to be seen whether it can replicate the creativity, emotional depth and nuance of human storytelling in a fully-fleshed out script.

If an AI uses a dataset of existing works to generate a new piece, who should also be credited as the creator? Can the original artists claim copyright infringement? These questions become even more complex when considering the fact that AI can produce work at a much faster rate than humans, potentially flooding the market with new content and making it more difficult for human creatives to gain exposure. 

Furthermore, the implications extend beyond the WGA. With the Hollywood actors strike still ongoing, more ethical and legal concerns arise. While AI de-aging tech was used effectively in movies like The Mandalorian or Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, AI’s presence on the Hollywood scene suggests that similar concerns about its questionably legal use, such as in areas like deepfake technology, could impact or shut out live, paid actors, opening another can of entertainment industry worms. 

AI and Hollywood … A Harmonious Coexistence?

Looking ahead, it’s essential to consider the evolving relationship between AI and human writers. Rather than viewing AI as a threat, it can be seen as a tool for enhancing productivity and creativity. AI could assist in plot development, character creation or even simulating audience reactions to different story elements.

The future may hold a hybrid approach where AI augments human creativity, preserving the unique aspects of human storytelling while enjoying the benefits of AI’s capabilities. Such a model would promote collaboration rather than competition.

To minimize legal gray areas, Hollywood unions and studios would be wise to establish open communication channels dedicated to navigating these evolving issues. Proactive discussion and policymaking now can help establish norms upholding longstanding intellectual property protections amid industry-wide technological transformation. With continued good faith efforts, opportunities for productive human-AI collaboration in entertainment content appear promising.

Written by Humans. Advanced by AI. Protected by IP Law.

Rather than an all-or-nothing scenario of human vs. AI scriptwriting, Hollywood’s future likely involves a blended approach. AI and writers can mutually capitalize on each other’s strengths to raise the creative bar even higher. Yet to realize AI’s promise, IP protections will need to evolve to strike the right equilibrium.

At Patterson Thuente, we stay at the forefront of emerging entertainment and IP legal issues. Our attorneys are well-versed in advising on AI’s growing impacts. We partner with clients to maximize opportunities while safeguarding their legal rights. The complex legal challenges surrounding new technologies require experienced advisors to guide your way. 

Contact us to navigate AI’s unfolding role in your creative frontier. 


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