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The Wild West of digital disruption: Where is the line between creation and ownership?

While the entertainment industry has been under the microscope because of the strike, many industries are facing challenges brought on by new technologies, specifically AI

Published: Jan 2, 2024 02:44:42 PM IST
Updated: Jan 2, 2024 02:51:18 PM IST

The Wild West of digital disruption: Where is the line between creation and ownership?One of the biggest concerns about AI is that it will lead to widespread job displacement. Image: Shutterstock

The entertainment industry – much like many other industries – is undergoing a significant transformation driven by a massive influx of advancing technologies. These technologies are creating new opportunities for content creators, talent, producers, studios, and other professionals, but they are also raising new challenges and concerns, as highlighted by the recent Hollywood strike.

For more than 100 days between May and October, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) – which represents around 11,500 screenwriters – joined by the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) were on strike over a labor dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). While there were concerns over wages, residuals, and benefits, one of the biggest concerns was and is the use of AI to create content and the ownership of digital rights.

Addressing the concerns over AI

While the entertainment industry has been under the microscope because of the strike, many industries are facing challenges brought on by new technologies, specifically AI. Many professionals worry that AI will remove income and jobs from new and legacy talent. Others believe it is a tool that can improve efficiency. The time to address these critical questions is now, for the world is shifting towards a future where digital assets hold as much value as physical possessions.

As a producer and content creator as well as an executive for one of the top management agencies that represents many celebrities and estates, I have a unique vantage point on this topic and can see the many nuances of the matter.

Will AI replace humans?

One of the biggest concerns about AI is that it will lead to widespread job displacement. As AI becomes more sophisticated, it will be able to automate many tasks that humans currently perform. However, that does not automatically mean job displacement. AI requires a human to lead it and prompt it. It is not at a stage where it can replace humans; It may never be. AI is a supplementary tool. We can, however, expect jobs to evolve and a growing need for professionals who know how to use AI and other advancing technologies.

Will AI replace creativity?

We stand at the precipice of a digital renaissance, where the very essence of creativity and ownership is redefined. But AI does not replace human creativity; it accelerates it. It allows us to move past our blockers, think outside the box, leverage legacy content, and help us in our creative endeavors. Many of us have experienced blank-page anxiety; starting is the hardest part. There may be an idea or a topic, but we can't put pen to paper or fingers to keys. AI can help people move past that block by providing a place to start, which can inspire creative flow.

Another way that AI helps accelerate creativity is by sifting through mountains of content and data in seconds to minutes – something that would take a person days or even years to do. Not only does it allow creators to pull from all the legacy content that exists, but it also saves time and energy. Imagine doing a 20-page research paper, but instead of spending hours reading books and articles, AI pulls all the research into one place. That frees up a lot of time and creative energy.

The rise of AI will also likely lead to new forms of creative expression. For example, AI could create new genres of films, TV shows, video games, or interactive entertainment. AI is not the end-all solution for content creation. It requires human creativity to lead the way. Content creators, stakeholders, and other professionals need to understand the implications of this new technology.

Also read: From Cloud leaps to AI advances: Here's what will shape India in 2024

The debate over digital rights

In an industry that thrives on storytelling, the narrative of digital rights has taken center stage, pitting creative talent against studios in a battle for ownership. AI and advancing technologies are used for many things in the entertainment industry.  Still, the thing that's getting the most attention and debate is the creation and use of digital humans.

When a movie or game requires a different version of an actor, they undergo a series of face and body scans. Creators then use the scans to generate the actor's digital persona(s). These digital versions can be aged up, aged down, turned into any style of a digital human, or speak many different languages. Even people who have passed away can be digitally recreated with the approval of the necessary rights holder. I’ve sparked a lot of debate with the push for the digital James Dean to appear in movies, gaming and spatial computing.

Currently, the studios acquire expensive machinery and employ people to do the scans and create digital personas. Because they finance them, they claim ownership over the digital assets. But the digital persona is a unique blend of creativity and capital, and herein lies the crux of our conundrum.

The prevailing sentiment among most actors is that they should retain ownership of the digital rights to these assets that are based on their name, image, and likeness. Given the evolving landscape, actors argue that they should have the freedom to utilize and market these assets in accordance with their preferences.

If an actor owns their digital assets, they can sell them to whomever they wish. Many actors fear that digital avatars, streaming, and loss of residuals will make it impossible to make money – or the kind of money they’re used to making. Their ability to make money is changing. While they might not make as much money on each project, they have the potential to appear in even more projects – films, games, shows, commercials, virtual reality experiences – with much less time and effort. This could potentially create even more revenue for talent.

A new era of content creation

AI is a powerful toolkit for creators to generate new content. It gives creators access to tools previously only available to major feature films. This access is opening new opportunities for a wide range of content creators, and it will likely lead to a massive ecosystem of new content.

As we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the intersection of digital rights and digital identities is not just a topic for discussion; it's an urgent call for action.

While it will be difficult to police this new ecosystem, we do have access to technology that could help manage content and ownership – the blockchain. Minting and tokenizing assets on the blockchain can protect and track how they’re used and provide transparency and accountability.

The solution: Digital rights passport  

Because AI and digital rights issues are so new, we lack a comprehensive governance framework or established policies to navigate these uncharted territories. The universal adoption of digital rights passports could protect actors and creators. With its transparency and immutability, blockchain technology presents the ideal canvas for minting and tokenizing digital rights passports.

Much like a passport or a driver's license, a digital rights passport would serve as a universal identifier, granting artists and studios a shared platform for digital asset management. With the digital rights passport, every piece of digital art, performance, and creation could be linked to this unique identifier, forever associated with the artists who breathed life into it, like IMDB but on the blockchain. Content creators could view these passports and decide what assets they want to use. Blockchain could become the guardian of our digital legacies, securing the rights and responsibilities of all involved.

Also read: Business of Entertainment: Some post-Covid recovery in 2023, but choppy waters ahead

Smart contracts

Smart contracts are a relatively new form of technology built on the blockchain that breaks down the rules and governance of something being minted and tokenized on the block. It specifies the exchange of digital goods from the asset owner to whoever is purchasing the asset.

A smart contract does not necessarily define fees, but it explains that a person provides clearance on using their source material assets. The smart contracts can also specify how and when the person's assets can be used and who can use them. For example, it can specify that the person's digital scans can only be used in specific productions or that they must approve the work before publication.

Digital passports and smart contracts are essential for several reasons.

  •     They can protect people from the unauthorized use of their digital assets.
  •     They can ensure that people are compensated fairly for using their digital assets.
  •     They can promote innovation in the entertainment industry by making it easier for content creators to share and collaborate on projects.

Digital passports for everyone

While the entertainment industry may be the first to adopt digital rights passports, most people will likely use them in their careers and personal lives. As digital worlds in the metaverse continue to grow and evolve, people will use digital rights passports to enter and interact in these worlds. Think of digital rights passports as the social networking of tomorrow. They will be essential for navigating the metaverse, representing our interests in virtual environments, and acquiring and using digital goods.

Companies that control social media and metaverse platforms value their user base in response to how much effort users put into their digital personas and what they do within those platforms. The more individuals understand the value of their digital identification, the more valuable they will be in navigating the metaverse.

The development of AI-generated content is raising important questions about ethics and copyright. It is crucial to have a public conversation about these issues to develop fair and equitable policies for the future. Ultimately, it's not just about digital rights; it's about preserving the soul of creation, recognizing the value in every stroke of genius and every line of code.

[This article has been reproduced with permission from Knowledge Network, the online thought leadership platform for Thunderbird School of Global Management]