Current law dictates that intellectual property and profits from video belong to studios and platforms
By Kwak Yeon-soo
It's been a year since Rep. Yoo Jung-ju of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea and Rep. Sung Il-jong of the ruling People Power Party each proposed a bill to revise the current Copyright Act to guarantee fair remuneration for directors and writers in the era of streaming.
However, discussions at the National Assembly are pending without much progress, largely affected by the standoff between the Directors Guild of Korea (DGK) and the Media Platform Alliance for Copyrights Issues, which is made up of broadcasters, cable channels and streaming service providers.
On Monday, the DGK, Screenwriters Guild of Korea (SGK) and 16 other related organizations held a press conference at the Assembly, calling on lawmakers to promptly process the bills and revise the Copyright Act that prevents them from receiving residuals in case of reruns, syndication or streaming.
The current act dictates that all intellectual property and profits from video content belong to service providers, including studios and streaming platforms, and do not have to be shared with individuals who participated in the creation process.
July Jung, the filmmaker behind social drama films "A Girl at My Door" (2014) and "Next Sohee" (2022), said she was not aware of the copyright issues until she got paid by a French broadcaster.
"It was only then that I realized I have a role as a filmmaker, but no right as a filmmaker. That gave me a sense of hope that we, too, can demand a system that protects filmmakers and receive additional remuneration when our works are played on TV, VOD or streamers," she said.
The director added that even small support from the revision bills could help many up-and-coming directors who are not financially stable and allow them to feel connected to their audiences.
A survey of 500 DGK members showed they receive an average annual salary of 18 million won ($13,442), which is lower than the country's minimum wage when applied to a full-time work schedule.
A DGK official explained that although Korean content is enjoying a rise in global popularity, directors are more likely to suffer financially than other film crew who are protected under a standard contract.
"Directors and screenwriters who make most films and series are freelancers, which prevents them from getting their fair share of profits and receiving residuals. Engaging in strikes like in Hollywood is considered illegal," he said.
The official also said that the revision bills are aimed at rewarding directors and screenwriters when their work is successful. Also, 28 countries in Europe and Latin America currently allow directors and screenwriters to claim additional remuneration, according to the official.
"It's difficult to say at this stage which foreign profit distribution models we would like to follow. There will be an adequate time to discuss such details with service providers after revising the act," he said.
|Members of the Directors Guild of Korea, Screenwriters Guild of Korea and 16 other related organizations attend a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul, Monday, calling on lawmakers to promptly process bills to revise the current Copyright Act. Courtesy of Directors Guild of Korea|
On the other hand, the media platform alliance claimed that the revision bills are probably unconstitutional and could weaken the entire film and streaming industries.
"The bills are regarded unconstitutional because they violate the principle of private autonomy guaranteed by the Constitution. Furthermore, the directors and screenwriters requesting additional remuneration do not understand that studios and service providers bear almost all of the financial burdens and risks," one official at the media platform alliance said.
He added: "The DGK keeps referring to cases from foreign countries, but countries with strong soft power that have cultural exchanges with Korea, like the U.S., Japan and China, don't have such laws."
Considering the DGK's standoff with the platform alliance, legal experts remained divided.
"It seems difficult to enforce the legislation. It's more feasible to give the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism the authority to periodically review contracts between directors and screenwriters and studios or streamers and resolve any dispute that arises," Lee Gyoo-ho, a professor of law at Chung-Ang University, said during a public hearing at the Assembly in February.
But Lee Hae-wan, a professor of comparative law and society at Sungkyunhwan University, said, "Although the principle of private autonomy must be respected, there are many cases in which the freedom of contract is restricted for social protection. So an effort on the bills to add an exception to protect directors and screenwriters who are in dire situations may be constitutional."