The Korea Herald


[IP in Korea] ‘Music copyright should evolve with digital revolution’

Current black-and-white frame of copyright regulation unfit for diverse digital music industry

By Bae Hyun-jung

Published : July 15, 2018 - 17:19

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The Korea Herald is publishing a series of interviews with experts in the intellectual property sector. This is the 20th installment. -- Ed.

For creators in the age of digitalization, copyright may be the single most important form of intellectual property, allowing them to make profits and stop their work from being used without permission. An excessive obsession with that second protective function, however, may undermine the essence of copyright, according to an expert on the digital music distribution business.

Keum Gi-hoon, CEO of Mediascope, says its purpose is not only to protect the rights of creators but also to promote the fair use of works and eventually contribute to the development of cultural industries.

Keum Gi-hoon, CEO of digital contents and media platform startup Mediascope (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) Keum Gi-hoon, CEO of digital contents and media platform startup Mediascope (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
“In response to the increasing acts of digital piracy over recent years, copyright seems to have risen into this absolute, inviolable right, especially in the music industry,” he told The Korea Herald in an interview.

“I agree 100 percent that the range of copyright protection should be expanded so that musicians may be reasonably rewarded for their work, but it is just as important to encourage the fair use of music content by providing a handy authorization process.”

Mediascope, founded in 2013 as a digital contents and media platform startup, is centered on two music services -- Dingastar, which is a karaoke mobile application for individuals’ use, and music broadcasting app Dingaradio.

The CEO’s involvement in the digital music business, however, goes back almost two decades to when South Korea’s government and industries hardly recognized the necessity of music copyright.

Keum’s first startup experience was in 2000 when he founded Wizmax, a paid downloading service for music MP3 files, only months before Soribada started its free peer-to-peer music sharing business.

“Soribada’s early-stage business model was, in a word, nothing more than systematic copyright infringement, one which allows users to upload and download music files without the consent of the creators and record companies,” Keum said.

“But back then, the free-for-all concept was considered an innovation that may reverse the market monopoly by large record companies and entertainment agencies. Neither government officials nor users were clearly aware that their unauthorized distribution was infringing the rights of creators.”

This intermediary period, running from the rise of Soribada until 2010, according to Kim, was the first generation of South Korea’s digital music market.

“The majority’s belief in the initial stage was that the conventional music record industry would continue to exist and that digital music was merely an additional, mutually complimentary sector to the record business,” he explained.

“In the early 2000s, policymakers failed to predict that digital music would swiftly replace the tangible music records, so they viewed the free P2P service as an activating element for the market, not as an illegality.”

Keum Gi-hoon, CEO of digital contents and media platform startup Mediascope (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) Keum Gi-hoon, CEO of digital contents and media platform startup Mediascope (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
But as major record companies were forced to close down business during those years, gradually came the consensus that fair compensation is crucial in order to sustain the market.

This was when local conglomerates, led by mobile carriers, kicked off paid music services and paved the way for what Keum referred to as the second generation of the digital music industry.

During this period, Keum worked as director in major digital platform services, ranging from SK Telecom’s Melon, CJ E&M and SK Planet, until he established Mediascope in 2013.

“Now we are facing the third-generation evolution of the digital music market, in which the consumption trend has shifted from downloading and streaming to video streaming via YouTube and mobile phones,” he said.

Also, the conventional distribution business model has expanded into a comprehensive media business, and the concept of copyright infringement needs to change with it, Keum says.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has recently approved a plan to increase the music copyright owner’s share in streaming service profits by 5 percentage points to 65 percent, in an effort to promote the rights of creators.

“I am not saying that copyright reinforcement is crucial in order to protect creators and their rights,” Keum said.

“After my experience in the early 2000s, I understand more than anybody else that copyright is an essential set of rights for the digital content business.”

But in today’s diversifying music business structure, a black-and-white approach on copyright licensing fee holds little significance, according to the CEO.

Article 1 of the Copyright Act states that its purpose is “to protect the rights of authors and the rights neighboring on them and to promote fair use of works in order to contribute to the improvement and development of culture and related industries.”

“For years, copyright agendas have pivoted on the protection of creators, but it is now time to extend our horizon onto the fair use and the advancement of the content industries,” Keum said.

An example was the Korea Music Copyright Association’s objection to the use of K-pop songs as team cheers at baseball stadiums.

“Yes, this involved a copyright issue that needed to be addressed, but banning the use of songs was just not a productive solution,” he said.

“The problem was that our current system lacks an accessible process that allows right holders to make profits and users to pay their fees.”

Citing the example of YouTube and its safe harbor clause, which states that content may be uploaded freely but must be taken down upon the copyright owner’s request, Keum urged the music industry and users for a more flexible approach.

“After all, music is an experiential product, meaning that users need to experience it before deciding to consume it. If copyright owners were to obsess over banning unauthorized use, they would eventually deter the potential growth of the market.”

By Bae Hyun-jung (