The two primary issues in the Writers Guild and SAG/AFTRA strikes are streaming and artificial intelligence. In my judgement, the AI issue, in the long term, is the fundamental issue. But, let me begin with streaming.

STREAMING. In the 1950s, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) negotiated a contract with the major television networks that included provisions for residuals — payments to actors for the reuse of their work. “I Love Lucy” was the first show to generate significant income from reruns. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz earned millions of dollars in residuals over the years.

Today, residuals are a major source of income for actors and writers. Shows that are popular in syndication can generate millions of dollars in residuals for their cast members and writers as well as the producers. For example, “Friends” earns millions each year in residuals from the show’s reruns.

The ability to earn residuals has made it possible for actors and writers to build long-term careers in the entertainment industry.

With the advent of streaming in our digital-cyber age, when people all over the world can view at will on a plethora of online platforms the work of actors and writers, the concept of a residual takes on unprecedented meanings. Producers, of course, who own the works in question have no trouble reaping the profits from this unanticipated windfall. Their rights are protected by law. That is not the case for actors and writers who receive very modest amounts from the windfall streaming profits, if they receive anything at all.

According to the WGA, in 2021, Netflix, Paramount, Fox, Disney, Comcast made a combined $28 billion. The writers are asking for 2% of these types of incomes.

Actors and writers are striking to secure some form of just recompense for the use of their work from streaming.


As AI evolves rapidly into all areas of human life, it develops many new capabilities which exceed the jurisdiction of our laws and which far outstrip our abilities to cope or even understand.

For example, AI can now make an image of you which almost flawlessly mimics your voice, your movements, and your other physical aspects so much so that it is difficult to detect whether this AI generated product is the real you who is actually making these movements or the fabrication of the AI’s fancy. When you upload images and videos of yourself onto online platforms, are you granting the owners of that platform ownership of those images and videos? Are they permitted to use AI to clone you and use you any way they choose?

Let me quote SAG-AFTRA Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland: “The companies refuse to recognize that you can’t expect people to sign over their name, image, likeness and voice, their persona to some corporate conglomerate with no right to ever say what they’re going to do with it in the future.” [Hollywood Reporter, July 14, 2023]; and “[producers] had asked for the ability to scan the faces of background artists for the payment of one day’s work, and then be able to own and use their likeness ‘for the rest of eternity, in any project they want, with no consent and no compensation.’” [BBC, July 14, 2023]

Also, in addition to being able to duplicate actors living and dead, AI has the capacity to mimic the writing style of famous and not so famous writers – and of you. AI can write letters, essays, advertisements, and stories mimicking your style.

Our current copyright laws are inadequate for this new situation.

The writers and actors are taking an important stand – a red flag and warning bell to us all – that we the creators of Artificial Intelligence must start now to learn how to cooperate with our own inventions.

AI will change our world. We must understand how best to employ these exceptional, unprecedented powers for the good of all.


July 2023 © [email protected]

Published 20 July 2023 by Windy City Times Media Group
Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago; president of Chicago Network JP; member, Writers in Prison, San Miguel PEN; member, TOSOS Theatre Ensemble, NYC.