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SAG-AFTRA Deal with AI Voice Cloners Angers Many Actors

Actors voicing Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum and Spike from Cowboy Bebop join others to express anger over AI voice deal

Ben Wodecki

January 12, 2024

2 Min Read
Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Actors union SAG-AFTRA inked a voice cloning deal with Replica that lets creators make and license their digital voices.
  • Several voice actors expressed anger and dismay over the deal.

Actors union SAG-AFTRA has signed a deal with an AI startup to enable performers to create and license digital replicas of their voice.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said the agreement establishes minimum terms and conditions and ensures performer consent and the right to negotiate the use of their digital voice double. Performers also have the opportunity to opt out of continued use in new works, such as in video games or other interactive media.

In a press statement, SAG-AFTRA said the deal was “fair” and “ethical," noting that affected members from the voiceover performer community approved the agreement.

“This is a great example of AI being done right,” said SAG-AFTRA president and actress Fran Drescher.

Replica developed Vox-1, an AI voice model that creates voices for characters in 44.1kHz quality. The startup counts several video game studios among its clients, including 'Crysis and Hunt: Showdown' developer Crytek and 2K Games-owned studio Cloud Chamber, which is making the newest installment of 'Bioshock.'

But several performers were not happy. Emi Lo, who voiced Akane in the English dub of the 'Chainsaw Man' anime as well as Lucy in 'Cyberpunk: Edgerunners,' said on X (Twitter): “Love how we're paying dues to a union that will throw our jobs to AI and then claim we all agreed to it.”

Related:Actors Strike Over AI: A Glimpse of Workers' Future?

Steve Blum, who voiced Spike Spiegel in the anime series 'Cowboy Bebop,' claimed “Nobody in our community approved this that I know of.”

And Veronica Taylor, who voiced Ash Ketchum in the English dub of 'Pokémon' from 1998 to 2006 questioned how the agreement passed without notice or vote.

“Why can’t the actual actor be used for the videogame??? Every job brings a unique opportunity for an actor to … act. Encouraging/allowing AI replacement is a slippery slope downward,” Taylor tweeted.

More strike action?

Meanwhile, the Interactive Media Agreement union contract at SAG-AFTRA, which covers all video game and interactive media actors, is still being negotiated. Last year, members voted in favor of a strike for performers covered by the contract. The Replica deal is separate from this agreement.

If video game voice actors go on strike, it will follow last July’s walk-out by writers and actors that lasted until November. The use of AI by film and TV studios was among the most divisive issues at the heart of those strikes, though SAG-AFTRA went on to secure a contract that compensated actors for the use of their AI-generated likeness in these projects.

Related:US Writers and Actors Strike: Intersection of Creativity, Pandemic Repercussions and AI

About the Author(s)

Ben Wodecki

Jr. Editor

Ben Wodecki is the Jr. Editor of AI Business, covering a wide range of AI content. Ben joined the team in March 2021 as assistant editor and was promoted to Jr. Editor. He has written for The New Statesman, Intellectual Property Magazine, and The Telegraph India, among others. He holds an MSc in Digital Journalism from Middlesex University.

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