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Video Piracy Putting Damper on “Korean Wave”

Posted May. 18, 2005 23:27,   


On April 22, in the investigative director’s room of the Hong Kong Customs Service in Kowloon, Hong Kong, there were videotapes and DVDs of Korean movies and drama series on the desks. They were all pirated copies. These were some of the items the customs department recently collected, as department officials were sorting through illegal counterfeit copies of Japanese movies, drama series, and animation in markets.

They said, “Korean goods are not sorted through,” as it is meaningless to do so. In order for counterfeiters to be arrested and brought to court, support from the copyright holder is a must. But in reality, there is no way to know who that is in the case of counterfeited Korean goods.

The Value of the “Korean Wave” Plummeting -

The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) issued a report after a local investigation in Southeast Asia on “Violations of Korean Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights in Hallyu (Korean Wave) Countries and Responsive Measures.” The report said, “Violations regarding Korean cultural goods are taking place throughout Asia in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.” It also said, “Counterfeits of the toy top named, ‘Top Blade,’ made by a Chinese company even sell better.”

These “counterfeit” Korean Wave products damage the value of the wave. In foreign markets in China, and Southeast Asia, the phenomenon of the “Korean Wave Discount” (or undervalued Korean Wave) is actively underway. Copyright fees for some Korean TV drama series, DVDs, and videos that are popular overseas dropped as much as 40 percent compared to last fall.

Kim Shin-il, a producer of the export department on the KBS network’s Global Strategy Team said, “Last year, talks were under way regarding copyright licensing contracts for the Korean drama series, ‘Full House,’ DVDs, and videos with a distributor in Shanghai. But because of illegal piracy, the contract negotiations for the DVDs and videos were broken off.” Lee Kai Chung, a program director at TVB, which aired Dae Jang Geum, the popular drama series about a Korean female doctor in the past, and is the number one private TV network in Hong Kong, said, “Counterfeits of Korean Wave items are a headache for us too,” adding, “Dae Jang Geum’s popularity led the networks to plan to import Korean movies and drama series and air them, but if the Korean government and businesses are not active in cracking down on counterfeits, the plan needs to change.”

Some point out that rampant counterfeiting does bring some benefits to Korea, as it did in the cases of the U.S. and Japan, which used to be developing nations in terms of culture. They argue that market share needs to expand in order for people to become accustomed to Korean cultural items. However, Joseph Sang, the CEO of Marksman Consultants, said, “The biggest problem with leaving counterfeiting unchecked is that quality control is impossible,” adding, “Counterfeit Korean Wave goods could kill the wave itself.”

KOTRA pointed out that “the argument for leaving counterfeiting unchecked should be discarded, especially considering economic aspects such as the potential growth of high value-added Korean cultural goods, and possible boosts in production and employment.”

The Complacent Government–

The business community is complaining, “There is no clear solution,” explaining that cracking down on counterfeiting regarding the creator issue and cost issue is just a one-time solution. They are also worried about their reputation deteriorating as a result of legal suits. The Korean government is trying to come up with belated measures even though it has not identified the current situation. One official at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the main department responsible for counterfeiting policy, said, “This year, an investigation will be launched and a bill will be introduced to establish a IPR center so that research on IPR protection in Korean Wave countries can be conducted and so that the government can have consultations with the business community on this matter. He added, “True, the government is not very aware of IPR protection, but as IPR is a private right, it should be protected by copyright holders themselves in the first place.”

However, businesses complain that the government is being too complacent in understanding the situation. A businessman said, “It is too much for individual companies to fight against IPR violations,” adding, “Government-level measures should be in place in the form of countervailing tariffs after thoroughly reviewing repercussions, just like the U.S. and the European Union do.”

Soo-Hyung Lee Keuk-In Bae sooh@donga.com bae2150@donga.com