How AI is using creatives' work, voices and images

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Since their inception, creative unions have fought to protect their members work from being copied and passed off without permission and to ensure they are properly paid. But, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is creating a tidal wave of copyright infringements.

These were the views of an experienced group of trade union representatives and officers in the creative industries, interviewed as part of a series exploring the views of workers of digital and AI at work, hosted by the Wales TUC and supported by Dr Juan Grigera from Kings College London and Adam Cantwell-Corn from Connected by Data. 

Web based technologies now make it easier for computer programmes to use and adapt people’s music, writing, image and voice, without consent and without payment.   

Unions are responding robustly with strong demands and policies and hard-headed discussions with production companies. But concerns remain.

AI can turn my working into a Frankenstein’s monster 

AI is a particular challenge for actors. Wales TUC recently conducted a focus group with members of the creative industry.  Brian said:

“It is vital that actors provide consent for past, current and future performances.  We need a system whereby actors can licence their performance or likeness on personal, non-exclusive, time limited basis.  And we need to secure fair and proportionate remuneration.” 

Musicians also face threats to their livelihood from AI. Eric, a music producer, said: 

“Intellectual property is being scraped by AI, which includes musical tracks like those I’ve created.  This is people’s work.  AI can turn it into a Frankenstein’s monster.” 

Angela concurred: 

“Un-curated data scraping is a real concern.  We need to have discussions about the ethics of this matter, especially with young people in the industry within universities, because they’re going to be carrying this forward.”

AI is generating audio books without actors’ consent to use their voices 

AI means that actors could miss out on significant work.  Brian highlighted the impact of AI on audiobooks: 

“We have concerns for the future work of actors. There’s been a huge increase in the use of AI. Automated audio books is one area in particular. And similarly, radio ads. In both cases, the actor provides their voice once and agrees to it being used to generate large amounts of content.   

“There is even a case of a member who was approached by a fan who said ‘we loved you reading this particular novel.  We’ve listened to it, downloaded it and it’s great you’re reading it.’ But the actor had never done it as an audio book. The fan had gone to a website where they’d asked for a particular book, by a particular actor and it provided them with a full transcription, because they had the voice of the actor. The actor knew nothing about the book! It had been generated using AI.”

Actors are at risk of losing work 

Actors are also at risk of losing significant work in films and television productions as AI technology improves. Brian said:  

“Many people enjoyed watching Peter Cushing being brought back to life for a recent Star Wars film and it was good to see that his estate had agreed to that."  

But current living actors aren’t well protected. AI isn’t covered under copyright law. The law has not kept up with technology and the UK government hasn't signed the World Intellectual Property Organisation 2012 treaty which provides the ability for actors to combat the misappropriation of images, likenesses and performances. 

“The recent strike by actors and writers engaged on contracts in the US related to AI.  The US union SAG-AFRA was concerned that an actor might only be paid for the day it takes to scan their body for a production, rather than the weeks it would take for conventional filming.  It’s not how union agreements work. We have royalty payments, which reflect the use of actors’ images every time the production is screened.” 

However, Brian reported that Equity, the actors’ union are taking positive steps to address these risks. He said:  

“We are looking at how AI can be built into our collective agreements, especially with the major British television producers.”

Writers concerned about being exploited by AI 

During our recent focus groups with workers affected by AI, Nerys from the Writers' Guild drew attention to challenges facing creative writers.  She said: 

“The potential for exploitation under the current legal situation is scary and very dangerous.” Quoting the Writers’ Guild’s principles, she said:  

* AI developers should only use writers’ work if they have been given express permission to do so."

* Where AI has been used to create content, AI developers should appropriately credit the authors whose work has been used to create such content. 

* The Government should not allow any copyright exceptions to allow text and data mining for commercial purposes. This would allow AI developers to scrape writers’ work from online sources, without permission or payment.

Photographers say AI is essentially stealing their work 

Evelyn from the NUJ said that photographers are also facing threats from scraping.  She said:

“As photographers, we deal with copyright infringement all the time. Scraping content from the web is many ways just a form of stealing. 

“Regulations should be clear that photographers should be able choose whether their images being scraped, and receive an income for this. There should be a licensing mechanism. 

Impact on news and democracy 

Evelyn explained that there are wider risks to the practice of data scraping:

“When it comes to the data scraping which informs generative AI models, these are influenced by biases and prejudice in existing materials.  If there is far less human involvement in creating news reports, then these biases will be reinforced.  It’s quite scary and a big issue. 

Furthermore, the ability of AI to create convincing photographic images of events which never took place will undermine trust in news services and in democracy."

AI is driving exploitation of younger creative workers  

In the focus group discussion, there was anxiety that AI was driving exploitation of the creative workforce, especially young people. 

Brian said: “Young people are always exploited in the creative industries, and this will continue unless we take action. 

“I’ve seen ads, they were asking for Welsh speaking actors in particular, to help AI programmes with the Welsh accent. A company was looking for actors to help train the AI. This was at a rate of £25 per hour.  I had to advise our members against taking the work.  I told them, “You’d be helping a computer replace you! They hadn’t factored that in.” 

Angela agreed saying:

“I’ve heard terrible stories of young people are being duped into acting in workshops without understanding how their image and likeness will be used. They are contributing to their own demise.” 

Kevin, a journalist for a technology magazine and an NUJ member said: 

“I recently saw a recruitment ad for an AI based job which asking the successful applicant to create fifty articles per day, using an AI tool. Their work would supposedly be to write the headlines, to provide images and to re-write as appropriate. The salary was £35,000.  

“The advert caused a controversy. It was setting unrealistic expectations.  It wouldn’t be possible to produce this amount of work, even with AI. The job was taken down. But this is just the start. As AI improves, we’ll see more of this kind of advert.”

Job losses as a result of AI 

As well as worker exploitation, job losses as the result of AI was a major concern of the group.

Arthur, a journalist said:  

“I’m worried that the technology will be used to replace jobs. AI has already been used in newsrooms to write reports on local sports: the score of a match is inputted and the AI programme generates a report.” 

Evelyn was concerned that about direct job losses and the knock-on effects: 

“Photography is badly paid as it is. Now AI can produce cheap stock images of low quality. This will drive many photographers out of work and many jobs will be lost. Without humans in these roles, creativity and skills will be lost." 

In the field of photography is it currently a free for all.  AI is being used to create photographic images. This is a threat to photographers’ work opportunities. The loss of work for photographers has a knock on effect. If a shoot doesn’t go ahead it also effects those who rent studio space, designers and models. There’s a whole micro-economy at risk."

Welsh government taking positive steps on AI 

Evelyn told us: “The Welsh government’s stated policy in this area is positive. They are interested in increased productivity, leading to gains for workers, such as the four-day week.  But employers are going in the other direction and cutting costs and jobs.” 

Brian added: 

“We have seen issues locally with automated cameras being introduced in television. The new technology doesn’t always work, it simply cuts corners and leads to job losses. When costs are saved in one area, will well paid jobs be found in another area, or will the employer rake in the profit?” 

Edward, a screenwriter said: 

We are seeing the eradication of ‘invisible’ employment in our industry. For example, the editor of a novel – it’s hard to evaluate their role.  It’s a job that isn’t seen by the public or credited. Unfortunately, people are blasé about it.” 

Potential benefits of AI in the creative industry 

In our discussion, union members were focussed on the threats posed by AI.  However, there was an acknowledgment that in some areas it could offer benefits.  

Arthur said:

“As a journalist, AI can help.  For example, when conducting an interview, I record it using an app which transcribes detailed notes.  The notes contain lots of ‘howlers’ – the technology isn’t perfect, but it saves time. It’s useful.” 

Evelyn added: 

“AI could enhance work, dealing with the administrative side, for example. This could free up time.   

“Those who do commercial photography may see opportunities and be able to use AI in their creative work to train AI. That would be a positive, as long as they are getting some sort of payment in return.”


A strong component of unions’ determination to protect their members work, voices and image being used without payment is to ensure transparency.  

Quoting her union’s principles, Nerys said:

“AI developers should maintain clear and accessible logs of the information used to train their tool to allow writers to check if their work has been used. What’s more, where content has been generated, or decisions have been made by AI and not a human being it needs to be clearly labelled as such."

Angela concurred and said: 

“The Welsh government’s cultural contract could invite transparency as part of a wider discussion on Fair Work.  Welsh government officials and the Arts Council for Wales could consider ways in which funding for projects in the creative industries insist on transparency in relation to the use of AI."

In a similar, vein, Jenny, an NUJ member said: 

“Publishers should ensure human editorial oversight and clear labelling of AI content.”

Trade unions promoting rights awareness and training 

Creative unions have not only produced detailed policy proposals for the UK government on these matters. They are also taking action to strengthen their members’ understanding of the issues.

Brian said:

“Our members are unaware of their rights. 79 per cent of members who worked on projects which involved AI had no idea of the implications of what they were doing. Therefore, we are educating members about their rights – and making sure they question things. We’ve also produced template contracts, as many of our members are freelancers. 

Similarly, Evelyn said that they are producing a toolkit for members to combat these issues. 

Welsh government and its agencies 

As well taking action themselves and demanding stronger legislation from the UK parliament, members of the group also saw an important role for the Welsh government and its agencies. 

Angela said: 

“The Arts Council for Wales’ stance on these matters is important. They should be developing policies on this. How are these custodians of these sectors responding to these issues and protecting artists?

Sioned said:   

“Under the Welsh government’s social partnership model, trade unions should always be involved, especially when public money is being granted. For example, Creative Wales is a Welsh Government agency set up in 2020 to support the creative industries in Wales. It has a memorandum of understanding with the Arts Council for Wales which refers to AI. We made sure as unions that this was included. When AI is discussed, unions should be involved.” 

NB, Workshop participants have been given nome de plumes in order to provide anonymity