SAG-AFTRA union secures AI protections for artists in deal with major record labels

SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikers picket in New York

(Reuters) - Hollywood performers and media professionals have reached a tentative deal with major record labels such as Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment that includes increases in minimum salaries and protections against the use of AI.

The deal covers the five-year period from 2021 to 2026 and has been unanimously approved by the executive committee of SAG-AFTRA, which represents roughly 160,000 actors and other media professionals, the union said in a statement on its website.

AI has emerged as a big concern in the entertainment industry and the issue was at the center of talks between SAG-AFTRA and major studios last year, which finally culminated in a contract in November after a months-long strike.

The music industry is especially grappling with songs created by generative AI — a technology that makes it easy for internet users to mimic artists' voices, often without their consent.

The SAG-AFTRA union said the tentative deal with the record labels requires both consent and compensation before a song is released that uses a digital replica of an artist's voice.

It added the terms "artist", "singer" and "royalty artist" could only refer to humans under the agreement.

"This agreement ensures that our members are protected. While technology can enhance the creative process, the essence of music must always be rooted in genuine human expression and experience," said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator.

Other highlights of the agreement include improvements in health and retirement options and an increase in the percentage of streaming revenue to be covered by contributions.

A final ratification vote by members is expected to take place in the next few weeks.

(Reporting by Granth Vanaik and Aditya Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)