August 11, 2023

Explaining IATSE’s Core Principles for Applications of AI

Loring Weisenberger
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IATSE recently unveiled a set of core principles for applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools in the entertainment industry. These principles are a first step meeting the challenge of AI and developing responsible best practices in response to the emerging technology.

In this post, we’ll give you a crash course in IATSE’s core principles for applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. We’ll walk you through what they are, why they exist, and how they could affect the production community in coming years.

What are the IATSE Core Principles for Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technology?

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) is tasked with advocating for over 150,000 behind-the-scenes entertainment workers whose jobs might be affected by AI and machine learning technology. Given that the use of artificial intelligence has become a marquee issue for media-makers everywhere, it should be no surprise that the largest union in entertainment has taken an interest.

To protect its members, IATSE has risen to the challenges of AI. After establishing a Commission on Artificial Intelligence in May of 2023, IATSE began developing a set of Core Principles for Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technology. These core principles were released to the public on July 5 of the same year.

IATSE’s Core Principles for Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technology are not regulations and should not be confused as such. Rather, they are a set of priorities guidelines by which IATSE hopes to develop best practices and regulations for AI technology as it develops. 

Many of the core principles cover broad subjects, but they carry specific implications. You can read the full text for IATSE’s Core Principles for Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technology here.

Now, let's dig into each of the eight core principles one-by-one. 

1. Comprehensive Approach

IATSE’s first core principle for applications of artificial intelligence describes a broad-sweeping approach to meeting the emerging tech:

“The Implementation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technology in the Arts, Entertainment, and Media industries threatens to fundamentally alter employers’ business models and disrupt IATSE members’ livelihoods. The stakes involved are high, therefore IATSE’s approach as a union must be comprehensive, focusing on Research, Collaboration, Education, Political and Legislative Advocacy, Organizing, and Collective Bargaining.”

This initial core principle is essentially a mission statement. It declares that IATSE will not take a limited point-of-view in its examination of AI in the workplace. It reinforces the seriousness with which union leadership views the issue. 

The principle also highlights IATSE’s top priority: to protect the livelihoods of its members.

IATSE’s comprehensive approach is an understandable reaction to the extreme growth seen in AI and related technologies. At a time when anything seems possible, IATSE’s strategy is to examine and prepare for all possibilities.

2. Research

IATSE’s second core principle for applications of AI focuses on the importance of information: 

“IATSE will be at the forefront of understanding how AI and ML will impact members and the broader entertainment industry. This includes better understanding how AI & ML tools are being used by members and the employers now, the capabilities and limitations of existing AI & ML tools, forecasting the capabilities and limitations of AI & ML tools to be developed in the future. IATSE will work to establish clear definitions that categorize various types of so-called “artificial intelligence” in order to advance enforceable legislative and collective bargaining oversight. IATSE will also urgently identify which crafts and Local Unions are most at-risk of being affected in the immediate future.
The IATSE Commission on Artificial Intelligence will engage in a comprehensive study of AI technologies, with a particular focus on how they may reshape the landscape of entertainment industry jobs under IATSE’s jurisdiction. It will also consider how contract provisions, legislation, and training programs can be adapted to ensure the fruits of increased productivity through AI are shared equitably among all stakeholders.”

Knowledge is power, especially for cutting edge technology. The more you know, the less vulnerable you’ll be to the unexpected. 

In this core principle, IATSE sets clear goals for researching applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning tech to better protect its members. 

Critically, these goals orbit two basic ideas: what the technology can and cannot do. IATSE is just as concerned with understanding the limits of AI as they are its possibilities. 

IATSE’s second core principle notes that the union will work toward “clear definitions.” This will help categorize AI tools and their regulation within the entertainment industry. This is an important step for the legislation of any new technology and one with which IATSE leadership is well familiar. The union has worked through similar challenges with drones and DIT tools, among other tech examples.

The definition of terms is particularly important when it comes to regulating crew positions, a primary concern for IATSE members. For instance, consider the potential usage of AI in combination with the Volume or other LED array technologies. 

If AI was used to alter the lighting of a screen array with a text prompt, it could create a strange overlap with the traditional role of a gaffer. Clearly defined terms would help to regulate whether that particular use of AI is technically separate from or a part of the gaffer’s job description. 

Notably, IATSE’s second core principle also considers the potential positive effects for filmmakers in all crafts. The final sentence recognizes that, in some cases, IATSE members may want to use AI or machine learning tools to do their jobs better, faster, or more efficiently. It frames the issue as one in which “all stakeholders” should be able to share the fruits of AI technology equitably.

3. Collaboration with Partners and Stakeholders

IATSE’s third core principle for applications of AI and machine learning highlights the union’s commitment to teamwork:

“The IATSE Commission on Artificial Intelligence will bring together IATSE members and representatives at all levels, as well as external experts to guide the union’s approach to the challenges and opportunities presented by this new technology. Union leadership and this commission will interface with allied groups and organizations, including but not limited to the AFL-CIO Technology Institute, the Human Artistry Campaign, the Copyright Alliance, and the Department of Professional Employees (AFL-CIO). Given the distributed nature of this technology and the reality of dealing with multi-national corporations, IATSE will continue to collaborate with allies outside the United States and Canada as well, including organizations like UNI MEI and BECTU.”

Because artificial intelligence presents a broad range of potential concerns, it’s critical that those concerns be considered from a wide variety of perspectives. For example, the practical issues that AI presents for professional propmakers (members of Local 44) differ from those faced by studio grips (members of Local 80).

With emerging technology, small differences between workers’ job circumstances can make for huge differences in their experienced level of impact.

IATSE’s commitment to collaboration both within and outside its membership is an extension of the comprehensive approach described in the first core principle. The specifically noted inclusion of AFL-CIO organizations further underscores IATSE’s worker-first orientation to the challenges of AI. 

The issue is large and complex, but IATSE is committed to gathering the right information to meet its members’ needs. 

4. Education

IATSE’s fourth core principle emphasizes the need for continued education:

“IATSE Members will continue to be the best in the world at what we do. We have adapted to new technologies and even developed many of the tools and techniques that have pushed entertainment forward for the last 130 years. We will embrace new technologies and tackle the issue head on. We assert that our members have the right to receive adequate training and upskilling opportunities to navigate any changes brought about by AI in their work environment. We will continue to work to equip our members with the skills to navigate this technological advancement and build a culture of continuous education, both through IATSE’s own Education and Training Department, and the IATSE Training Trust Fund.”

IATSE is no stranger to new technology. Perhaps more than any other major film union, IATSE has a long history of integrating new technology into how they work. It’s no surprise then that this fourth core principle explicitly frames artificial intelligence as a tool to be used and embraced through continued learning.

This commitment to education and training also serves as an assurance. For IATSE members, it asserts that they’ll have the necessary resources to keep their skills up to date. For producers, it asserts that IATSE will facilitate (and not deny) access to cost-saving technology. 

The fourth core principle suggests that AI can be a win-win provided that the tech is approached responsibly.

5. Organizing

IATSE’s fifth core principle for applications of artificial intelligence addresses the possibility of further labor organization:

“IATSE recognizes the implementation of AI & ML as catalysts for organizing. Our union is committed to organizing entertainment workers in new related job classifications.”

IATSE knows that new technology doesn’t always integrate easily into established crew positions. In the past, they’ve implemented a wide variety of specialty job classifications to address brand new positions created by drones, Steadicam systems, and other innovative tools. 

IATSE’s fifth core principle expresses a similar understanding of artificial intelligence and machine learning. While some AI tools might fall neatly within the purview of an established crew position, others may constitute a brand-new craft. IATSE asserts that it will strive to organize these new crafts into their own classifications or locals. 

6. Maintain Workers’ Rights, Members’ Job Security, and Union Jurisdiction

IATSE’s sixth core principle for applications of AI reaffirms established workers’ rights:

“Workers in jobs that use AI should be afforded the same rights and protections as those in roles which have not historically used AI. New technology must not become an excuse to erode the conditions we’ve fought to achieve for decades, nor should it become a way to circumvent the union altogether. The implementation of AI and ML should not lead to job losses but rather should serve as a tool, complementing the work done by our members. We commit to continuing to advocate for our members’ job security in the face of AI integration.”

For unions, major AI concerns largely revolve around the possibility that their members’ jobs will deteriorate or disappear. While there’s no denying that using AI will alter the entertainment industry, IATSE wants to make sure that the technology is not used to harm workers in the process.

To that end, IATSE’s sixth core principle simultaneously functions as an encouragement and a subtle warning. 

On one hand, the union is saying that it will do everything in its power to protect members’ jobs and associated rights. On the other, IATSE is declaring that it will be on guard against attempts to use AI as a means for evading union regulations. 

7. Political and Legislative Advocacy

IATSE’s seventh core principle dives into the legal issues underlying applications of AI:

“The union will continue to represent behind the scenes entertainment workers’ interests in policymaking, focusing on maintaining strong copyright and intellectual property laws. As members of the Human Artistry Campaign, IATSE supports the Core Principles for Artificial Intelligence Applications in Support of Human Creativity and Accomplishment.”

As far as IATSE is concerned, credit should be given where credit is due. The seventh core principle prioritizes the value of copyrights and intellectual property for their creators, a key issue in regulating the massive data sets used to train artificial intelligence. The principle specifically cites guidelines presented by the Human Artistry Campaign, a movement dedicated to protecting human creativity through responsible regulations.

IATSE’s seventh core principle goes on to qualify the types of legislation that the union will advocate. In general, IATSE plans to support policies that:

  • Ensure entertainment workers are fairly compensated when their work is used to train, develop or generate new works by AI systems
  • Prioritize the people involved in the creative process and protect owners of intellectual property from theft
  • Improve transparency of the use of AI & ML systems
  • Prevent legal loopholes that can be exploited by individuals, companies, and organizations in the U.S., Canada, and otherwise

By advocating for policies that match the above characteristics, IATSE is emphasizing human creativity over AI-powered derivatives. The seventh core principle reinforces IATSE’s position that AI can be used as a creative or technical tool but not a means for worker replacement.

8. Collective Bargaining

IATSE’s eighth and final core principle for applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning identifies the emerging tech as a subject for future negotiations:

“The impact of AI on work conditions and roles falls within the scope of mandatory collective bargaining subjects. We commit to negotiating provisions that address AI into our future contracts. IATSE demands transparency from employers regarding their use of AI, even in the absence of relevant government legislation. We are dedicated to safeguarding our members’ privacy rights and ensuring that AI applications adhere to the highest ethical standards, including non-discrimination and fairness. We also recognize that collective bargaining is the primary way to ensure workers do not have to wait for government regulation through legislation, which could take years or may never come at all.”

Collective bargaining power is the foundation of any labor union, and IATSE reasserts that power with its final core principle. While the previous core principles offered guidelines for approaching AI-related issues, this eighth entry serves as a declaration that ties them all together. It’s intended to ensure that artificial intelligence and machine learning remain open topics for official discussion. 

In so many words, IATSE wraps up its core principles for applications of artificial intelligence with a simple message: AI will be a topic for future contract negotiations.

Wrapping up

Regulations and best practices will evolve as the production industry continues to integrate AI and machine learning technology. The IATSE core principles for AI and ML applications represent an important early step in ensuring that this process will unfold as responsibly as possible.

If we know one thing for sure, it’s that production companies love tech and will find a way to use it. Keep an eye on the Wrapbook Blog to see how filmmakers adopt AI and other disruptive technology in the near future and beyond.

Last Updated 
August 11, 2023


At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Loring Weisenberger

Loring is a Los Angeles-based writer, director, and creative producer. His work has been commissioned by a diverse range of clients- from Havas Worldwide to Wisecrack, inc.- and has been screened around the world. Through a background that blends project development with physical production across multiple formats, Loring has developed a uniquely eclectic skillset as a visual storyteller.

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