Actors Unions Make Deal For “Ethical Use” Of AI Voices

SAG-AFTRA is urging members to support a new agreement with the major record labels, which establishes conditions under which singers’ voices can be replicated with AI.

The union announced a tentative agreement with the labels — including Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Disney Music Group — on Friday, saying that it provides for “ethical and responsible” use of artificial intelligence.

The agreement follows the union’s contract with the major studios, which ended last year’s actors strike, and which set terms for AI use in TV and film.

The union’s contract with the record labels, called the Sound Recordings Code, sets minimum session rates for singers and other vocal performers.

Further details about the tentative agreement were released on Monday, as the union asked members to vote to ratify it by April 30. Under the deal, singers would have to give their consent before a label could use AI to generate a track with their voice.

The deal also sets a minimum rate for AI replication of session singers’ voices, in the amount of three “sides” per project. (A “side” is equivalent to the payment for one audio track lasting up to 4 minutes and 30 seconds.) There is no AI minimum payment for “royalty” artists, who receive royalties on record sales rather than session fees.

As with other recent union agreements, including the American Federation of Musicians contract ratified earlier this month, the goal is not to eliminate AI. Rather, the aim is to set minimum terms that allow singers to license their voices without being exploited.

Singers face a threat, however, that their performances could be used to train a “synthetic” voice that does not sound like them. Like previous union deals, the Sound Recordings Code does not require consent for AI training, nor does it set any minimum payment for having one’s voice used to train an AI model.

The contract does provide that if labels release music using synthetic voices, they would still have to make royalty payments to a union distribution fund, which collects revenue from music streaming platforms.

“We’re trying to make sure it’s not less expensive to use a synthetic voice,” said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s executive director.

Crabtree-Ireland said that in negotiations, the labels have said they have no plans to use AI to create synthetic voices.

The union last struck a deal with the record labels in 2018, and that contract expired in 2021. Talks on a new agreement were delayed considerably when the union pushed for a California law, the FAIR Act, that would have limited record contracts to no more than seven years. That legislation pitted the two sides against each other and ultimately failed to pass.

Because minimum session fees have not been updated since 2021, the deal provides for an immediate increase of 14.5%. That will be followed by increases of 3.75% next January, 3.25% in January 2026, and 3% in January 2027. The deal does not include a retroactive pay hike.

The deal also increases contribution rates into the pension and health fund for streaming platforms.

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