The Writers and Actor’s Strike

I generally don’t comment much on Next Door, a lesser known, location based social network. Most of the posts are dumb, but not worth really arguing. I did see this image, somewhat randomly posted, and did comment, and I’m going to expand on the idea of my comment here. I also don’t know why they bothered posting it. The whole point of Next Door is “local discussion”, not stupid Macro politics discussions.

For a few weeks or so, there has been a writer’s strike in Hollywood. This isn’t the firs tone, it’s probably not the last, these people also really seem to know how to at least put an effort into their demands. Recently, a day or so ago, the actors union joined in the strike. Hollywood is effectively at a stand still. Expect another boon in shitty reality TV like back in the 2009 time frame.

This graphic feels like some sort of “clever gotcha” about rich Hollywood stars, singling out Matt Daemon. Does he make too much money for his films? Eh, probably. Of all the “rich people” in the world, I really find it hard to get too upset over movie and music star millionaires. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but it basically joint boils down to, a lot of them tend to actually support philanthropic causes, and their star power creates a draw and work for a LOT of other people. Also once reaching “star level”, especially Matt Daemon star level, there tends to be a lot of extra baggage and upkeep needed, nice clothes, an expensive security detail, etc. I’m not saying at the end of the day Matt Daemon is poor, I’m just saying, his 2+ Million months income, probably has a pretty heft amount shaved off for “Monthly expenses” that most people do not have.

He still probably makes too much money, but he also isn’t going around doing shitty things and promoting hate groups online.

Anyway, the bigger issue is, that 90%, probably more, of “Hollywood” isn’t anywhere near Matt Daemon. They are probably way less than “most people” in terms of income. Using these big stars for reference is stupid. The strike isn’t about Matt Daemon, it’s about Ryan Rathbun, Jack Wang, and Ansa Woo. Who are these people? Who knows? I pulled them off of IMDB from Daemon’s most recent film Oppenheimer, they are “Lecture Attendee,” “Cambridge Student,” and “Female Student #70” respectively.

They are all listed as “Uncredited”. But they did still, do work, they still got paid. I have no idea what the pay rate for “Female Student #70” is, but I am sure it’s not $20+ Million a year.

So ok, there’s some angle I suppose, maybe Matt Daemon should get less from his part and these walk on extras should get more for their part. Possibly. The strike isn’t about that though. At least not for the part of the actors.

It’s about the use of AI.

For actors, it’s about the use of AI likenesses. It’s increasingly becoming a problem. There was a story about the use of an AI generated Bruce Willis being used in commercials. Increasingly companies are adding clauses for AI Likeness use in actor contracts.

The issue here isn’t really an issue for Matt Daemon or Bruce Willis. They would be fine never working again ever (Bruce Willis actually can’t anymore due to declining health). It’s an issue for “nobody actors” like Ryan Rathbun, Jack Wang, and Ansa Woo. Because maybe they worked for a day, made a little money for some walk on background role. Maybe in a few years, the studio decides to make Oppenheimer 2: Nuclear Boogaloo, and they decide they need Female Student #70 to make another appearance, but hey, now they can save probably $500 and not bring Ansa Woo back on set again, they can just roll out the AI version.

In any movie.

Why bother with extras when you can just use AI and CGI to add them in. You don’t even need the detail of a leading actor like Matt Daemon or Bruce Willis, they just need to look good as an NPC sitting at a table 20 feet in the background slightly out of focus taking notes or drinking a coffee.

Then there is the writer’s side of things, which is just as bad, and also AI related. It wouldn’t be specifically ChatGPT, but the idea is that for a lot of these shows these days, studios could just, feed data to a LLM AI algorithm and then have it start spitting out episodes. This kind of just points out how sad the state of current TV is a bit, that an entire script could be written by spicy autocorrect, but the point remains, someone is out of the job. And in the case of some long lived shows, it’s still technically using effort put in by that person since it’ll be using old scripts.

And it’s definitely possible. There was a Twitch channel that was essentially just an endless loop of sloppy CGI 2 minutes bits based on Seinfeld. These were extremely repetitive in content and kind of shit, but the whole operation was clearly run on a very “fly by night” level and even a little bit of extra cash influx, like what a movie or television studio could do, would help it be “better”. As for the graphical part, well, Same concept, replace the shoddy CGI with an AI driven creation image. All for cheaper than the cost of hiring a bunch of real writers and actors.

Essentially, AI generated content would cause the entire media industry to completely stagnate even more, even faster, People joke about the world becoming Idiocracy, but this the kind of content that would feed that world. Simple idiot content for idiot people to just consume consume, please drink verification can!

The worst part of all this is, even if the writers and actors win this round, the studio execs won’t stop, and next time they won’t bat an eye at dropping these people. It’s all just so, frustrating, it’s part of why I stopped bothering with Stable diffusion after my initial tests and experiments. It’s just all so completely empty and soulless. It’s the end came of the focus group economy. Take the average and spit it out as “content” which just re-enters the system and churns back out until everything unique about art and media is just smoothed out and identical.

Medical Mechanica factory from FLCL

Copyright, SOPA, Why You Should Care

So yesterday was “American Censorship Day”.  This was to… commemorate really REALLY is not the right word, maybe acknowledge or point out that yesterday Congress had a hearing about SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”.  There are plenty of sites out there talking about this better than I probably can explain but the general gist of the bill is that it would give the movie and music industry, the MPAA and the RIAA, the ability to have a website blocked by DNS servers if it contains infringing or protected copyrighted works.

Now, this is all feel good and great on paper.  If it passes we can block sites like the PirateBay or MegaUpload which are often used to distribute infringing materials.  But then, people often use Bittorrent to download infringing materials, it should probably get clocked too.  Then you have folks uploading TV shows and clips to Youtube, it should probably be blocked too, besides, that gives the secondary benefit of removing all of those entertaining cat videos people seem to prefer to watch instead of crappy sitcoms.  There is also that Facebook thing, where people like to post those videos, which infringe on IP, let’s block it too.

Granted, this is the whole “worst case scenario” mindset and I really doubt Facebook would be blocked.

At least not initially.

Before we get too off track, let’s point out that many people use ThePirateBay and MegaUpload and similar sites to distribute legitimate content.  Even if that’s pushing it, Bittorrent is definitely used for legitimate content.  Download bandwidth is relatively cheap but upload bandwidth is not.  Being able to distribute the file hosting system across hundreds and thousands of hosts with Bittorrent is excellent technology.

Back to the “major players” of Google (with Youtube) and Facebook, yeah, it is probably unlikely they would get blocked.  However, there is a greed mindset that comes in with unchecked power where Youtube could easily be a candidate to be blocked.  As I mentioned, people are increasingly growing interested in independently produced media, be it heavily produced independent films, video bloggers in their bedrooms and offices or even just some guy who filmed his cat for 8 hours and cut together a 30 second string of the best moments.

The movement towards disintermediated user generated content away from the big business models of expensive shows and movies and music is the true “enemy” of the music and record industry.  It’s just not real Politically Correct for the big bad media industry to blame the obvious because there isn’t anything they can really do about it in the end.  The internet revolution for lack of a better term is quickly killing the middleman economy of the past.  I’m not going to get too far off on this tangent though because it would make this even longer than it already is and it’s a topic I’d like to touch on in a separate post.

The point is… the big media giants can use SOPA to essentially close Youtube preventing a lot of independents from even getting exposure in the first place.  The desired and expected outcome would be that everyone comes crawling back to buying albums at $17 each that have 2 almost decent songs on them so they can make money hand over fist ripping off their customers like they did up until 10 years or so ago.

I should point out that I’m using Youtube pretty generically here as it’s interchangeable with pretty much any website centered around user generated content.

Now you might ask, “why would they shut down Youtube, why not just shut down the infringing channel/person?”  This is an excellent point, why can’t they do that?  Doesn’t shutting down a whole website seem a little extreme?  Here’s the punch line for ya, they ALREADY HAVE THIS ABILITY.  It’s called the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act”.  Under the DMCA, if someone starts posting a bunch of episodes of Glee to Youtube, Fox can issue a DMCA takedown notice to Youtube and have those videos removed.  Simple, easy, somewhat effective.  The problem of course is that there is more Youtube content uploaded every minute (maybe it’s second) than there are hours in the day.  Policing all of the content for infringing videos is essentially impossible.  Youtube already has several systems scanners and algorithms in place that scan new uploads as they arrive but they aren’t 100% effective.

They can’t be.  People are clever.  They’ll slow the music down slightly so it doesn’t get caught.  They’ll flip the video of a scene so it doesn’t match.

Which brings up another point.  SOPA will do nothing to stop Internet piracy.  People will find a way if they want to pirate copyrighted materials.  DNS can be blocked but people will just start using the IP address of the websites being blocked.  People will use TOR Networks, people will use proxies that are out of the country (like they do in China which firewalls itself out of the rest of the world).  People will find a way.  PC games started getting ridiculous with their DRM yet there is always a crack available, often before the game is released.  Music on iTunes and other MP3 stores used to have DRM preventing unauthorized play and people figured out how to use the “analogue hole” or just burned them to CD then re-ripped them.  People will find a way.

The people who suffer from all of this tend to be the honest folks.  The guy who didn’t realize he could only authorize iTunes on 5 computers or devices or whatever and now he’s got a new machine and can’t play his songs.  Or the person who wants to play their new PC game on their laptop without having to carry the CD around but the game requires the CD for authorization.  Or worse, the game requires an internet connection to be played at all, which BTW, there are still many people WITHOUT regular internet access who still like to use PCs and play games and use software.

To stop what?  Pirates?  They downloaded an ISO that included a hacked EXE that breaks the encryption or DRM or need for the disc a week before the game was in stores.

The other side of this bill which is quite sinister is the lack of due process involved.  DMCA takedowns are bad enough as they don’t always require proof.  They also get issued against websites which use copyright materials under the Fair Use clause.  Fair use most often involves a copyrighted work being less than a certain length and used for parody or criticism purposes.  Like if a person has a music blog where they review songs, under fair use (I think, I’m not a lawyer) they would be allowed to embed 30 second clips of the tracks into the review.  This takes down entire websites without any due process and barely requires any actual proof of infringement.  Essentially if they say “take it down”, it goes.

The really terrible angle here, as they say, power corrupts and this bill gives too much power to people that don’t deserve it, is, for example, that hypothetical music review blog I mentioned.  Let’s say they are fairly harsh and don’t give too many positive reviews.  We can’t have this negativity floating around getting readers now, negative reviews affect our bottom line.  So the site gets a SOPA notice and disappears.

Criticism out of site, out of mind.