VOICE OVER & AI: PART 2
Read Your Voice Over Contract! What To Avoid
- And Include - Regarding AI / Synthetic Voices
March 21, 2023
By Vocal Variants
Currently, most actors would be hard-pressed to find AI explicitly mentioned in contracts for non-AI jobs. Instead, other language may be used that could mean synthetic voices.
Some alternative language could include "voice duplicate," "vocal ID," "digital duplicate," "digital double," "vocal clone," or "voice replicate."
Other keywords commonly used to imply AI voice training or AI voice creation are "machine-learning," "synthesize," "simulate," "duplicate," "reproduce," "clone," or "manipulate."
Many of the above are appearing in voice over contracts in nearly all kinds of VO jobs: animation, video games, dubbing, audiobooks, podcasts, you name it.
And it's not just the non-union talent that need to be on their toes (although non-union jobs offer less protection than their union counterparts). This verbiage has been sneaking into union contracts as well, and from multiple major studios.
IF IT APPEARS IN YOUR CONTRACT ...
If you encounter the above, we encourage you and your agents to ask it to be stricken and then to email the voice over department of SAG-AFTRA (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In the cases where you are met with the explanation that these clauses exist to allow the client to edit or mix or pull your audio, we encourage you to request language be added to your contract that specifically states your voice will not be used to train or create an AI algorithm.
On union jobs, if the employer refuses to alter the contracts, currently, SAGAFTRA is recommending that actors sign their contracts anyway, and then send a copy to the voice over department. This way, no actor is losing work over this, and the union can take up the issue on your behalf.
Alternatively, you could add a clause specifying that if your vocal data is ever used or sold to an entity to train or create an AI algorithm, they must ask for your consent and you must be duly compensated. The terms of the compensation can be determined at a later date.
NAVA (National Association of Voice Actors) has made public a rider that actors can download to use as a template or guide to protect against having their vocal identities stolen. Click here for that rider.
CREATING A SYNTHETIC VOICE?
Now let's say an opportunity arises for you to create a synthetic voice.
What do you look for in your contract to make sure that you are not being taken advantage of?
Whatever the scenario is, make sure that the usage is clear and that they are contractually obligated to be transparent with you on how and when your synthetic voice will be used.
This means defining specifically which medium your voice will be used for, and specifying that if your voice is used outside of those defined areas, they will ask for your permission and you will be compensated.
WHAT TO STIPULATE ...
Since synthetic voices make it easy to update content, it's extremely important that your contract includes details about the term or length of time the usage is for.
Terms like "in perpetuity" means they will be able to use your synthetic voice forever (even after you are dead). If you stipulate a specific end date, then you can always renegotiate should the client want to keep using your voice.
When setting terms, it is also a good idea to include a clause that allows for scenarios where you can exit out of the contract at any time.
You should also look for any exclusivity requirements in the contract. This would bar your voice from being used in association with a specific group of products. For example, it may expressly prohibit your voice from being used in any other car commercials.
Keep in mind that even if the contract does not have any exclusivity terms, other products may have exclusivity requirements, in which case selling an AI version of your voice to a non-exclusive client could still prevent you from taking potential future jobs.
HELPS DETERMINE YOUR RATE
One of the reasons it is so important to define the term and usage is because it helps you determine what rate you should be paid.
Synthetic voices can be used for pretty much any type of job - commercials, audiobooks, promos, etc. - and different types of jobs command different rates. As such, it's expected that different kinds of synthetic voice jobs will pay differently.
When negotiating these, look to the Union industry standard as a guide to what your job should pay.
And voice artists should not only be paid for their time (the sessions it takes to record the vocal data needed for the algorithm), but also for the term for the usage, the period of time of the contract. This could be something akin to upwards of tens of thousands of dollars a year to use your synthetic voice in the agreed upon mediums.
WHO HAS ACCESS TO YOUR VOICE?
Lastly, you should also know how your vocal data will be stored.
Who will have access to it? Is there any type of digital watermarking on the files? This is called Safe Storage.
Data is data. And voice data, like all other kinds of data, can be hacked.
Having this information could help in the event that your vocal data is stolen and used by another party.
GET IT IN WRITING
In negotiating with clients, you may be told things like, "Oh that's not legally enforceable," or "Don't worry, that doesn't refer to AI."
Don't take their word for it. Unless you have that saved in writing, you will have zero recourse if they break their word.
Furthermore, even if something is not legally enforceable, you don't want to be spending time, money and energy fighting it out in court.
Moral of the story? Read your contracts…in your natural voice, a character voice, or synthetic voice, it doesn't matter…just read your contracts.
ABOUT VOCAL VARIANTS
Associated with the non-profit National Association of Voice Actors (NAVA), Vocal Variants is a group of concerned actors who work the breadth of performance contracts and have joined together to address issues around the use of AI/Synthetic voices and performances in the voice over industry. Made up of both union and non-union actors and other individuals, it has support from guilds, representatives and performers around the world. To keep up with developments in AI/Synthetic voices related to voice over, contact:
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