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ILLIT's BELIFT LAB sues Min Hee-jin for defamation, denies plagiarism allegations

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K-pop girl group ILLIT members are seen in a commercial for local telecom giant KT.  Yonhap

K-pop girl group ILLIT members are seen in a commercial for local telecom giant KT. Yonhap

By Park Jin-hai

The ongoing conflict between K-pop powerhouse HYBE and its sublabel Ador over management control takes a fresh turn as another HYBE subsidiary BELIFT LAB sued Min Hee-jin, CEO of Ador and producer of the girl group NewJeans, Wednesday, on charges of defamation for plagiarism allegations against its artist ILLIT.

BELIFT LAB said in a statement, "We clearly state that the allegations of plagiarism raised by CEO Min's side against our artist ILLIT are false. We have submitted evidence to the judicial authorities to prove that the allegations are untrue and we will clarify the truth through legal procedures, even if it takes some time."

The company said "baseless speculations and false facts" are belittling its artists' efforts and ILLIT members are suffering from severe levels of malicious comments, ridicule and personal attacks in the middle of the HYBE-Ador conflict.

Min publicly accused the rookie girl group saying that they are a copycat of NewJeans.

"ILLIT is copying NewJeans in all aspects of their entertainment activities including hair, makeup, costumes, choreography, photos, videos and event appearances. People even call them ‘Min Hee-jin style' and ‘Min Hee-jin type,'" the CEO-producer said in a public statement last month.

NewJeans' performance director Kim Eun-ju also raised the issue of plagiarism last week on her Instagram saying, "Huh? Really? Even the commercial choreography? I've been holding back for a while... I get that it could be a coincidence, but isn't this a bit too much? Sure, they can be similar! But usually, when you reference something, you make some changes out of courtesy, but this is just straight-up copy-paste."

Internet users speculate that the commercial choreography mentioned refers to NewJeans' McDonald's challenge choreography released last year, which is said to be similar to that of ILLIT's "Lucky Girl Syndrome."

K-pop girl group NewJeans / Courtesy of Ador

K-pop girl group NewJeans / Courtesy of Ador

Critics agree that there are enough reasons to think ILLIT have replicated the success formula of NewJeans. Pop music critic Jung Min-jae noted that regardless court's decision, it is highly likely that ILLIT will continue to be associated with plagiarism issues from the public's perception.

"In cases of plagiarism, the original creator's opinion holds the most weight. Therefore, since the original creator has claimed plagiarism in terms of styling and choreography, there is a high possibility that public sentiment considers this as plagiarism, regardless of legal judgment," Jung said.

"BELIFT LAB has simply stated that it is not true, but in order to prove this, they need evidence. This could include evidence that ILLIT was in production before NewJeans' photos or choreography were released."

Another critic Kim Do-heon points out that technically it cannot be "plagiarism" as copyright laws do not typically cover the fields of hair, makeup and styling.

"Min Hee-jin raised concerns about her creative process being indiscriminately shared within the company. She is righteously taking pride in the process of creating and making NewJeans a success. She was talking about similarities, not plagiarism. Copying and plagiarism are different issues," he said. "The whistleblowing was about unauthorized use. It seems that both sides are using provocative words as the public opinion war escalates."

If HYBE showed respect toward Min's production method, things would have been different, he added.

"The charm of a multi-label system lies in having various labels under one roof to coordinate and seek advice or consultation if there are similarities. But, as the two companies' feud escalated to defamation and plagiarism accusations, the already confusing situation is becoming more and more entangled," Kim said.

"Considering ILLIT members being the target of malicious comments, Min cannot be absolved of responsibility. By publicly calling ILLIT a copycat, people think the group really copied or plagiarized. Now they're almost branded as a plagiarist group. However, BELIFT LAB's legal action is heading a wrong direction, I think. The target of legal action should not be CEO Min and Ador, but those who are indiscriminately compiling and spreading false information and posting malicious comments."

Park Jin-hai


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