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Equity says new resources will educate performers on their legal rights, and calls for government to take urgent action to regulate the use of artificial intelligence.

voice over artist working in a studio. image depicts a man wearing headphones, speaking into a microphone while doing work on his computer
Equity says voice-over artists are particularly at risk from AI developments

DragonImages via iStock

Performers' union Equity has released a set of resources designed to protect performers against a surge in unregulated technology and the impact it could have on their careers.

The union’s new AI toolkit is designed to advise its members of ethical use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the industry, while legal templates and guidance have been published to help them enforce their legal rights.

Equity says the toolkit was produced “in response to the huge increase in members contacting the union to seek, advice, support and legal representation”.

“With use of AI on the rise across the entertainment industries, Equity is taking action and giving our members the tools they need to safeguard their legal rights,” Equity’s Industrial Official for New Media, Liam Budd said.

Included in the toolkit are model contract clauses designed to prevent performances being cloned without consent, a template take-down notice to tackle intellectual property infringement and Equity’s Vision Statement, articulating how AI can be applied ethically by the entertainment industry.

The launch marks Equity’s latest step in supporting its members through the rising use of unregulated AI technology in the sector, following the launch of a campaign calling for performers’ rights to be strengthened earlier this year.

According to research shared through the campaign, 65% of performers think AI technology poses a threat to their employment opportunities, with voice over-jobs deemed to be particularly at risk.

Among the growing concerns is the use of performance cloning, a method of recording or reproducing a synthetic version of an artist’s performance, voice or likeness through a machine or equivalent technology.

Equity says that while performance cloning has the potential to positively impact the industry if used ethically and responsibility, artists often do not know where or how their contribution is being exploited.

It said some artists accepting work to record their voice for research purposes with major AI voice developers, only to find out they have assigned their rights to an end client who can use their voice - or a synthetic copy - for commercial ventures.

In response, Equity’s toolkit includes a template contract for its members to use when engaged by commissioners that addresses contractual questions and concerns that the union has been made aware of.

Government lobbying

The launch of Equity’s toolkit comes as the union makes fresh calls for the government to regulate the growing use of AI.

The government has previously heard concerns around advancement in the use of AI in the sector and is currently consulting on its AI white paper, entitled A pro-innovation approach to AI regulation.

Also ongoing is the Intellectual Property Office’s work to produce a code of practice for generative AI, which is scheduled to be published this summer. 

The government has said the IPO’s code of practice will “provide guidance to support AI firms to access copyrighted work as an input to their models, whilst ensuring there are protections (e.g. labelling) on generated output to support right holders of copyrighted work”.

Equity says it will be submitting evidence about the urgent need to strengthen performers’ intellectual property rights to the government and adds it is working across the sector to protect performer’s rights.

“Whilst Equity will continue to engage with producers across the entertainment industries, the government needs to step in with robust measures to properly regulate the growing use of AI,” Budd added.

Intellectual Property Expert Dr Mathilde Pavis, who worked on the development of Equity’s toolkit, says the UK’s legal framework is not well designed to protect performers from unauthorised imitations of their work using AI technology.

“The Equity toolkit is a very good, but temporary, solution to protect performers until the UK Government reforms the law,” Pavis added.

“We hope the government puts forward artist-centred and workable proposals for reform, going beyond voluntary codes of conduct.

“Having a clear legal framework on AI-generated performances makes for better business for all involved: performers, producers, content distributors, AI companies, and the consumer.”