Hollywood screenwriters have gone on strike. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) seeks higher pay, upfront fees from streaming services, better working conditions and reassurance that studios won’t use artificial intelligence programs to generate scripts. The last WGA strike, 15 years ago, led to permanent changes in the entertainment landscape, such as the rise of reality television. Effects from the newest work stoppage have already begun, and the longer the strike continues, the more consequences it will have.
Virginia Tech communications law expert Cayce Myers offers his perspective on the writers’ concerns about use of AI in screenwriting, and Virginia Tech media technology expert James Ivory discusses the strike’s potential ramifications for the television and film industries.
Cayce Myers on the use of AI to write scripts
“The members of the WGA are essentially afraid of being replaced with AI,” Myers said. “Because of the rapid development of the technology, screenwriters fear that without regulations on AI they as an industry could cease to exist with few, if any, consequences for entertainment companies. Generative AI has the ability to mimic the writing of famous writers, dead and alive, so it is possible to have new scripts sounding like they were written by famed screenwriters.”
“The underlying conflict of automation vs. workers is nothing new. The difference here is that creative work has never been threatened so much by new technology. There’s also the legal issues of copyright and appropriation, which is complicated by the fact that generative AI content fails the originality requirement for copyright,” Myers said. “It’s important to see how this turns out in negotiation. As more people figure out the power of this new technology, there will be a greater public demand for its regulation. The parameters on generative AI use that result from WGA negotiations may serve as a guidepost for other regulations of the technology.”
James Ivory on strike consequences for entertainment industry
“Your favorite talk show host is already going without jokes on current events as of today, and you will notice the difference. Many on-camera hosts and actors will likely acknowledge the strike, partly to explain the absence of writing but also in support of the writers,” Ivory said. “Films and television programs with longer production cycles are also immediately affected, but audiences won’t see the impact on these programs for some time as most television series and movies airing now were written long ago.”
“We will likely see impacts on other programming decisions if the strike is a long one, which will affect not only what audiences see, but also the employment of others in the television and film industry,” Ivory said. “Planned and ongoing projects may be canceled, postponed, and revived due to the writers’ strike. In the past, strikes have led to more reality television programming being kept and introduced as a substitute for more writing-intensive programming.”
“The biggest impact of the strike, of course, is on the writers,” Ivory said. “The conditions of the strike heavily limit the work they can do. It is a scary time for a lot of people in an industry that has already been hit very hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last writers’ strike in 2007-2008 lasted 100 days. That’s a long time to wait for a paycheck.”
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