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Korean music industry falls victim to Chinese labels' copyright infringements

Amid a tense social atmosphere in which China's government and nationalists are laying claim to some elements of Korean culture ― from kimchi and samgyetamg to hanbok ― Korean netizens have recently discovered that China-based musicians and labels have been infringing on several K-pop artists' copyrights on YouTube.

Chinese companies have claimed they own the copyrights to g.o.d's "Road," IU's "Morning Tears," Toy's "Good Person" and Younha's "Waiting" among others, and have been illegally collecting the associated royalties.

Musicians and recording companies receive these "neighboring rights royalties" when their recording is performed, broadcast or streamed on platforms.

The YouTube content description box of IU's "Morning Tears," for example, reads that it is a song by "Qingchun Jilu Ce," and is sung by "Huang Yiyun" and "Chen Yajie," on the album "Qingchun Jilu Ce." It also states that the song is licensed to YouTube by "Believe Music (on behalf of Union Entertainment) and 2 Music Rights Societies." Union Entertainment is headquartered in Beijing, according to its website, and operates an international music distribution business. After Korean netizens made this discovery, it became the topic of a heated discussion on social media, so as of Monday, many of the disputed songs descriptions have been removed.

In addition to Believe Music, there are several other labels based in China that have been violating Korean performers' and their labels' "neighboring rights": EWway Music, Enjoy Music and The Orchard Music are three such entities.

The Chinese companies have registered K-pop musicians' songs that had not been registered by the original copyright owners for various reasons.

It is likely that those Chinese companies took advantage of the absence of registration for the content in question during the early 2010s, before YouTube became a popular platform for music, and copyright owners did not actively monitor music uploaded there.

YouTube approves a copyright claimant as a neighboring rights owner after receiving certain evidence of the copyrighted content for which copyright owners hold exclusive rights, according to YouTube. Once the Content ID is given to the owner, the system will match the owner's reference content against every upload to YouTube and then distribute royalties to them.

For example, the neighboring rights of Brown Eyes' "Already One Year," which were licensed to YouTube by EWway Music (on behalf of Beijing YiGeAi Technology), were transferred from Vitamin Entertainment to KakaoM, previously Loen Entertainment, in 2012. The neighboring rights of Toy's "Good Person" were transferred from The Groove Entertainment to KakaoM in 2014. The neighboring rights of Davichi's "From Me to You" expired. In between the transfers, it appears that registration of the songs on YouTube may have been skipped or delayed because whenever the rights are transferred from one agency to another, YouTube's Content ID system should be revised, according to those who are familiar with the issue.

An expert said that China's relatively low awareness of intellectual property rights seems to have allowed these copyright violations to occur.

"Many Chinese music agencies don't have knowledge about intellectual property or intentionally ignore it because it is okay to violate it in China. The Chinese TV production that bought the rights to use the format of the Korean TV show, 'The Masked Singer,' refused to pay royalties to the Korean company, despite the Korean company winning an international law suit over the issue. It is very common in the Chinese music industry too. Some even say the best we can do is not to work with them," a singer-songwriter and music professor said on condition of anonymity.

Experts say Korean singers only recourse is submitting a copyright claim to YouTube directly in hope of settling issues.

"Those Chinese companies may have violated laws on copyright, especially laws on neighboring rights and moral rights … YouTube and the Korea Music Copyright Association (KOMCA) have signed a bulk contract on getting copyright permission to songs managed by KOMCA and allowed YouTube to use them. Copyright owners don't always necessarily register their property on YouTube, but if there is an issue, they can exercise their rights, as they still possess the moral rights separately from the bulk contract," Seol Ji-hye, an attorney at Seoul-based law firm Hwawoo, told The Korea Times. "So the situation appears that an individual song is not under management and rights owners should settle the issue individually by claiming their rights."

She added that Korean musicians will find it tough to win their copyrights back by filing international lawsuits against the Chinese companies if the Chinese government is not cooperative.

Younha, a famous singer-songwriter, came forward in an attempt to resolve the issue, saying on Instagram that "I am aware of the infringement of Waiting. Thank you for letting me know the situation and worrying about me. I would have approved using my song if the proper steps were taken. I was so surprised by the situation, which is beyond my imagination, but I will resolve the problem."

Meanwhile, Korea's culture ministry, as well as performing artists and music agencies, are taking Chinese labels' infringements of the copyrights of K-pop songs seriously.

The ministry is gathering evidence of numerous copyright violation cases and plans to seek cooperation from the Chinese authorities to resolve the problem, while KOMCA is also looking for ways to settle the issue through YouTube.





source: The Korea Times
Tags: music
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