Disney CEO calls AI ‘difficult’, especially with ‘IP management’

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Disney’s Bob Iger has spoken about some of the difficulties that studios are being presented with, as artificial intelligence rapidly evolves. 

Artificial intelligence is fast becoming the buzzphraseof 2023, not least in Hollywood where it has proved to be one of the more contentious issues in the stalled contract negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. That deadlock has currently led to a strike by the writers who are very concerned about the ways studios could be planning to use artificial intelligence to replace parts of their roles (something we wrote about here).

As for the studios, despite the clear potential for AI to make them even richer, the technology is also presenting them with some pretty taxing problems, the chief amongst them being intellectual property (IP, to its mates). As most generative machine learning is built upon information that is mass-harvested from the internet, there’s a very solid argument that nothing an AI creates can be copyrightable. To these companies whose entire systems are built upon ring-fencing IP, this presents a clear problem.

Also, there’s lots of chatter at the moment about a future where AI-driven generative processes are used to allow users to design their own ‘films’ using the technology. This is already possible with simple still images using apps like Midjourney, and you can ask Chat GTP to write you a screenplay with you featuring as the lead, going up against any Marvel villain you desire. As the technology progresses (and being AI, it’s progressing very, very quickly) the general thought is that this will soon evolve into effectively ‘directing’ your own film.

Never mind what that does to the concept of authorship, for studios the natural concern is that this could be highly destructive to their most valued assets: intellectual property. Remember the Boaty McBoatFace story from a few years ago? Give choice to people and the first thing they’ll do with it is something daft. For studios, granting their IP to users and effectively allowing them to do what they want with it could be a public relations and financial disaster.

Iger alluded to this on a post-earnings call (thanks to Deadline), telling investors, “it’s pretty clear that AI represents some pretty interesting opportunities for us, and some substantial benefits. In fact, we are already starting to use AI to create some efficiencies and ultimately to better serve consumers. Getting close to the consumer is a real goal of ours. But it is also clear that AI is going to be highly disruptive and could be difficult to manage, particularly from an IP management perspective.”

The Disney CEO played his cards pretty close to his chest with the details, although he did go on to say that Disney won’t be left behind in the AI revolution, adding “I can tell you that our legal team is working overtime already to try to come to grips with what could be some of the challenges here. So I would have to say I am bullish overall about the prospects for efficiencies and better service to customers. On the other hand, I think there is a lot we are going to have to contend with that will be quite disruptive and quite challenging.”

Iger refused to be drawn into specifics, stating “I’m not prepared to be more specific,” when pressed further on the matter.

Finding a way to exploit AI alongside their intellectual property is going to be a real high-wire act for these studios although they’ll no doubt eventually find a way. Still, any missteps along the way could provide us with some meme-worthy material, if nothing else. We’ll let you know more on this one as we hear it.

Image: BigStock

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