PGA’s Produced By Conference Tackles AI and Deepfakes, Shrinking Budgets and Finding ‘That Line’ Not to Cross as a Producer

The time has come for producers to think about how to protect themselves against possible copyright and ownership challenges related to the use of generative AI tools in film and TV production.

That was one of the messages sent Saturday at the Producers Guild of America’s 14th annual Produced By conference in Los Angeles, featuring a daylong schedule of panels drilling down on digital disruption and other pressing issues for content producers.

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“I don’t know if an artist I commission is using generative AI. I didn’treally care before, but I guess I have to care now,” said Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment and a past PGA president, during the hourlong “AI: What Every Producer Needs to Know” session moderated by Carolyn Giardina, senior entertainment technology and crafts editor for Variety and Variety VIP+.

Ghaith Mahmood, partner at Latham & Watkins specializing in AI-related legal issues, walked the crowd through the intricacies of where copyright protection starts and ends for content at the moment. He emphasized that new rules of the road are likely to be established in the coming years as more than a dozen pending copyright cases wend through the federal courts.

“I do think we are on shifting sands,” Mahmood told the audience at the Darryl F. Zanuck Theater on the Fox Studios lot. At present only works made by humans can be considered eligible for copyright protection. And the key legal tests at the moment hinge on the level of human control and creativity exerted to make a work. With the tech innovations of generative AI, powered by mind-boggling computing systems, He noted that legal eagles are eagerly awaiting a report expected this summer from the U.S. Copyright Office that will “give us more color on what does that mean to have sufficiently creative control by a human to [make content] copyright-able.”

Renard T. Jenkins, president of I2A2 Technologies, Labs & Studios and president of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, explained the nuances of AI and the terminology around its use. He emphasized that the entertainment industry has a huge incentive to makesure that the AI tools used in professional filmmaking are based on “clean” large language model data bases — namely those built from the ground up with appropriate consent and copyright protection provisions. That’s the way to give human artisans control over technology and tools that will have enormous impact on production.

“We should be more concerned about how the tool is used and who’s using the tool than the tool itself,” Jenkins said. “We have the opportunity to take some of these tools and build them into our process…We need to train artists how to use these models and how to build them so they have more control over their IP.”

McCreary offered a personal example as the conversation turned to the problems of deepfake creations that involve copyrighted works or the likeness of a prominent figure, such as her Revelations Entertainment partner Morgan Freeman. The renowned actor is a frequent target for bogus social media videos and memes. Usually, McCreary can spot a fake right away but she was disturbed a few weeks ago when she came across a video so convincing she had to call Freeman to confirm that it was not him.

“With this age of disinformation, it makes me frightened,” McCreary said. “As a community, we need to get ahead of it.”

To that end, SMPTE and other industry organizations are working on developing a meta data-based tracking system to verify the authorship and integrity of content, Jenkins said. This effort will require a level of coordination among high-end producers, studios and distributors around the world. “It’s everybody into the pool and if somebody’s a bad actor, they get kicked out of the pool,” he said.

(Pictured top: Revelations Entertainment’s Lori McCreary and I2A2 Technologies, Labs & Studios/SMPTE ‘s Renard T. Jenkins)

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