Now, generative AI is the potential kill shot, the one that could cause copyright owners to surrender their library of scripts, created over decades, in exchange for promised benefits that will never arrive.
When it comes to generative AI and video, Silicon Valley only needs to hook one constituency— Hollywood executives. Once studios buy in, they will be at the mercy of the purveyors of that technology. It happened in journalism. It happened in music. Silicon Valley did not kill those industries, but it gained control of the audience and extracted a huge percentage of the potential profits. For studio executives, generative AI is an intelligence test.
The best path forward is for studios and writers to acknowledge four realities.
First, generative AI will eventually be a valuable tool in some creative realms, potentially including script writing, but only if the AI has been built from the ground up for that task.
Second, the flaws of today’s generative AIs make them unsuitable for serious work, especially in creative fields. General purpose AIs, like ChatGPT, are trained on whatever content the creator can steal on the internet, which means their output often consists of nonsense dressed up to appear authoritative. The best they can do is imitate their training set. These AIs will never be any good at creating draft scripts—even of the most formulaic programming—unless their training set includes a giant library of Hollywood scripts.
Third, Silicon Valley is the common enemy of studios and writers. It is an illusion that studios can partner with AI companies to squeeze writers without being harmed themselves. Silicon Valley is using a potential reduction in writer compensation as the bait in a trap where the target is studio profits.
Fourth, there is no reason Hollywood cannot create its own generative AI to compete with ChatGPT. Studios and writers control the intellectual property needed to make a great AI. A generative AI that is trained on every script contributed by a single studio or collection of studios would produce wildly better scripts than ChatGPT. Would it produce the next Casablanca? No. But it could produce an excellent first draft of an Emmy Awards show script. And it would safeguard the business model of Hollywood for the next generation.
If studios work separately or together to create AI they control, the future of Hollywood will be much brighter. Central to this fourth point is a legal strategy of copyright infringement litigation against the major players in generative AI. If copyright is to mean anything at all, Hollywood must challenge Silicon Valley’s assertion of the right to “permissionless innovation,” which has become a safe harbor for law-breaking in domains ranging from consumer safety to public health to copyright.
Some might say that Hollywood does not have the ability to “do technology.” That is ridiculous. Pixar, Weta Digital, and the CGI special effects industry demonstrate that Hollywood can not only master technology, but also innovate in it.
There are many open source architectures for generative AI. Studios and the WGA can license them cheaply and hire a handful of engineers to train their own AI. It will take many years, but copyright litigation will buy the industry the time it needs, and it may even become a giant profit center.
There are serious issues to be resolved between the writers and studios. AI is part of the negotiation, but it is substantively different from the other issues on the table. The tech industry wants to use generative AI to extract profits from film and television, just as it has done in other categories of media. The question is whether studios will repeat the mistakes of journalism and music.