top of page
  • Robert Farago

Hollywood: AI Scripts Welcome!

Didn't see THAT one coming

“A writer will not be disadvantaged if any part of the script is based on AI-produced material, so that the writer’s compensation, credit and separated rights will not be affected by the use of AI-produced material.”

That’s Hollywood Studios’ proposal to striking members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers Guild of America.

Judge Beryl A. Howell of the US District Court for the District of Columbia agreed with the US Copyright Office’s decision to deny grant copyright protections to an artwork created by computer scientist Stephen Thaler using “Creativity Machine,” an AI system of his own design. Howell wrote in her motion that “courts have uniformly declined to recognize copyright in works created absent any human involvement.”

How much human involvement is required to establish copyright? That’s yet to be established.

Despite or because of the ruling, under the Studio’s proposal, Hollywood script writers could use AI to generate content for on-screen credit and cash for “their” work.

Was that what the writers wanted?

Who Owns What?

While the Studios’ offer seems generous, the proposal is a Trojan horse. It hides an army of low-priced “prompt engineers,” ready to replace expensive industry insiders/vets.

Less conspiratorially, the Copyright Office clearly stated that “writers” can’t copyright AI-generated material. So the Studios’ offer simply reflects reality: there’s no practical way to detect AI’s contribution to a script. (AI detectors are easily defeated.)

In effect, Studios are saying if your name’s on it, it’s yours! (I’d love to see what that contract looks like.) Talk about opening the floodgates…

Everyone and their Mother is already using AI to “write” a Hollywood script. The AI-augmented material heading Hollywood’s way is already mind-numbing, both in terms of volume and cluelessness.

Meanwhile, Literary Authors Are PISSED

The author vs. AI battle is being fought on multiple fronts.

The most prominent: the lawsuit filed in California District Court by Sarah Silverman, Richard Kadrey and Christopher Golden (pdf here). The writers claim Meta violated their copyright by training a Large Language Model on their work.

Investigating the case, The Atlantic discovered that Meta’s AI developers tapped into a ginormous database called Books3.

Upwards of 170,000 books, the majority published in the past 20 years, are in LLaMA’s training data. In addition to work by Silverman, Kadrey, and Golden, nonfiction by Michael Pollan, Rebecca Solnit, and Jon Krakauer is being used, as are thrillers by James Patterson and Stephen King and other fiction by George Saunders, Zadie Smith, and Junot Díaz.

The litigious authors’ angst isn’t just about payment for previous work. They view AI as an existential threat. They hear the technology singing “anything you can do I can do better.”

Can it? Here’s Bard AI’s reply to the prompt “write the opening paragraph of a horror story based on telekinesis in the style of Steven King.”

Carrie had always known she was different. She could move things with her mind, just by thinking about it. At first, it was just little things - a pencil rolling off a desk, a book falling from a shelf - but as she grew older, her powers grew stronger. She could make entire rooms shake with her rage, and people would cower in fear at the mere mention of her name.

I was shocked to see Bard used the name of an actual Steven King character. That’s not gonna help AI’s case for royalty-free training, now is it?

The Homage Conundrum

Bard AI’s attempt at a King-esque opening para reads more like a high school book report than anything resembling the horror writer’s style. (For now.)

If the above text was written by an high school student, there’s no way in Hell Mr. King or his publisher could successfully sue the teen – assuming “success” isn’t defined as effective intimidation.

So how is Meta obligated to pay for copyrighted work that it summarizes/paraphrases? What of straight-up imitation? Can a literary style be copyrighted?

Fanfiction - stories written in the style of a favored author using established characters and settings - is our guide.

The genre is legally permissible as long as the “new” work is “transformative.” As long as the “new” author added content with new meaning and value.

In fact, if fanfiction isn’t AI-generated, the literary homage enjoys its own copyright protection. Whereas AI’s version does not.

Can Mr. King sue Bard for “borrowing” his style? I’m thinking no. I’m also thinking imitation is the sincerest form of copyright theft.

Section 230 FTW?

And then there’s much-debated, oft lamented, free speech-protecting Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

The law shields websites and online platforms from legal liability for user-generated content. Given that users’ prompts “create” AI content, does Section 230 immunity protect chatbot providers?

Alternatively, if AI chatbots are on websites that allow user-generated content in any way, shape of form, does that shield AI content from legal blowback?

Make no mistake: the tech giants offering AI chatbots have all the money in the world to defend their digital darlings against copyright claims on re-jigged or imitation material.

Losing that kind of case would cost billions. (Google scraped 200 million copyrighted websites.) It would also be a logistical nightmare, forcing Big Tech to go back to the drawing board (or whatever they call it).

A Copyright Clusterfuck

In short, the AI copyright situation is a clusterfuck.

While AI-related copyright claims work their way through the court system, while Uncle Sam tries to create new laws to regulate AI, Amazon is selling thousands of AI-written books.

AI has changed the writing game forever. The AI genie is not going back in the bottle. Again, Hollywood Studio’s “you send it, you own it” proposal reflects this reality. A completely uncharacteristic concession, but there it is.

Like the music industry’s shift from pay-for-play to artist-fucking subscription services, the book and script biz will never be the same. What replaces it is anybody’s guess.

0 views0 comments


bottom of page