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Top court confirms artist not guilty of fraud for selling heavily assisted paintings

Singer-turned painter Cho Young-nam (Yonhap)
Singer-turned painter Cho Young-nam (Yonhap)

The Supreme Court on Thursday confirmed a ruling that cleared a singer-painter of fraud for selling his paintings that were created with the help of assistants.

Cho Young-nam, once a popular folk singer, was accused of fraudulently selling 21 pieces of art to 17 people for a total of 153 million won ($126,792) from September 2011 to January 2015.

Cho called the paintings his own, but it was later found out that assistants he had hired actually painted them, and he only added some final touches.

A district court sentenced him to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years for fraud. But in August 2018, the appellate court found him not guilty of fraud because his artwork embodied Cho's original ideas and the role of his assistants was limited to helping him technically.

The fact that Cho's paintings were created with the help of another person was not deemed to be absolutely necessary information for buyers, the Supreme Court concluded, effectively accepting the defendant's argument that using assistants in art making was a widespread practice.

The court also said it would be best to respect the opinions of experts when it came to art transactions, unless there were issues of forgery or copyright violations.

The singer, who was popular in the 1970s-80s, has painted professionally since 1990. He was found to have used assistants to produce more than 300 works sold under his name since 2009.

Prosecutors claimed that Cho defrauded buyers by pretending he had painted the works all by himself and selling them at high prices. The investigation began when one of his assistants filed a complaint with the prosecution in 2016.

Cho denied the charges, saying he did not consider the use of assistants in art to be illegal and arguing that it was a customary practice. (Yonhap)
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