Major webtoon platforms' fight against piracy

The cover of the web novel, "Reborn Rich," left, and the poster for its webtoon adaptation of the same name / Courtesy of Naver Webtoon

By Park Han-sol

Korea's webtoon industry continues to post bullish growth ― amounting to 1.57 trillion won ($1.27 billion) in sales in 2021, up 48.6 percent from the year before. But also displaying a marked rise is piracy.

The rampant illegal distribution of original webcomics and web novels has long remained a headache for major platforms here. The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) estimated the size of the market for pirated digital comics at 842.7 billion won in 2021, up 53.6 percent from the previous year.

In a bid to stamp out unauthorized content distribution, the two biggest players in Korea ― Naver Webtoon and Kakao Entertainment ― have been devising different strategies in recent years.

Naver Webtoon adopted its own artificial intelligence-based technology called "Toon Radar" in 2017.

The program has been trained to automatically monitor illegal websites in real-time. When it comes across pirated titles, it extracts user identification information invisibly embedded within the webtoon's screenshot images and subsequently blocks the account of the unauthorized distributor from gaining future access to the webtoon platform.

Since 2019, through machine learning, the program has been analyzing popular patterns of online piracy and detecting suspicious user activities based on its algorithm.

The company announced that the estimated value of the copyrighted contents its technology has helped protect reaches up to 300 billion won each year.

The poster for the hit Kakao webtoon series, 'Itaewon Class' / Courtesy of Kakao Entertainment

Kakao Entertainment, which operates Kakao Webtoon and Kakao Page, established a task force dedicated to anti-piracy measures in November of 2021, becoming the first player in the industry to do so.

Currently, it has specialists monitoring and reporting pirated content in English, Chinese and Indonesian.

From last April to November, the team monitored major global search engines, including Google, Yandex and Bing, as well as social media channels, and subsequently took down over 6.87 million episodes of webtoons and web novels that had been illegally distributed in multiple languages.

The task force has particularly strengthened measures to stamp out unauthorized file sharing within the Chinese-speaking market. It added Baidu, China's top internet portal, to its watch list last year and successfully removed 1.04 million episodes ― a quarter of the total cases ― from the market.

Park Han-sol

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