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Celebrities lose ‘publicity’ suit against Naver

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Published : 2014-01-23 20:21
Updated : 2014-01-23 20:21

Local celebrities lost on Wednesday in a lawsuit that they collectively filed against major portals to seek compensation for their names being used for commercial purposes, according to the Suwon District Court.

Fifty-nine celebrities filed the lawsuit against South Korea’s biggest online portal Naver and its affiliate company in May last year, claiming the right of publicity. They asked for damages worth 1.2 billion won ($1.1 million) in the high-profile suit joined by Jang Dong-gun, Bae Yong-joon and Girls’ Generation, among others.

The plaintiffs claimed that portals provide search results leading to commercial shopping mall sites that sell products containing their names, even though they do not endorse such products. In Korea, a host of online shopping malls sell products in a way that suggests they are somehow linked to stars. For instance, Korean customers are routinely browsing “Jang Dong-gun padded jacket” and “Bae Yong-joon glasses” on shopping sites.

Despite the claims by the stars, the court ruled that portals did not violate the rights of the stars under the current law.

But the legal battle is not over. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit of the same nature against about 10 Web portals including Daum in the Jeju District Court and Nate in the Seoul Western District Court.

Ahn Hyo-jil, professor of intellectual property law at Korea University said the number of legal disputes related to publicity rights is going up in Korea, but the local law does not have a clause on the publicity rights that limits the public use of one’s name and identity, particularly for commercial purposes.

“The law needs to stipulate exactly what constitutes as the legitimate use of the photograph, name, voice and signature,” Ahn said.

Earlier this year, 35 celebrities including Song Hye-kyo and Kim Nam-gil lost in a similar lawsuit filed against a plastic surgery clinic in Seoul. The stars claimed that their photos were used for the hospital’s promotional events without permission from their agencies. The Seoul Central District Court ruled that their publicity rights cannot be recognized due to the absence of guidelines from the top court.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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