[THE INVESTOR] In an era where the cultural content industry has become a pivotal engine for growth, public awareness should evolve accordingly to perceive copyright infringement of creative work as a serious hurdle to technological innovation and sustainable revenue, according to a cultural content policy expert here.
“When it comes to copyright protection, South Korea is in fact well reputed for its relatively thorough legal system and stern policy implementation,” Yoon Tae-yong, president of the Korea Copyright Protection Agency, told The Korea Herald in an interview.
Having kicked off in September 2016, KCOPA is currently one of the two leading copyright-dedicated organizations affiliated with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism along with the Korea Copyright Commission. Yoon, who formerly worked in the Finance Ministry and the Culture Ministry, took office as the agency’s first president in early 2017.
Yoon Tae-yong, president of the Korea Copyright Protection Agency.
“A chronic dilemma, however, is that the evolution of the digital technology and content distribution network has also diversified the forms of copyright violations over the years, making it challenging for policymakers and regulators to keep track,” Yoon said.
“The latest replica webtoon scandal, for instance, has explicitly shown how an entire online content-reliant industry may become vulnerable to piracy.”
He was referring to the recent arrest of the anonymous operator of an illicit pirate website named “bamtoki” or “night rabbit,” which has been stealing online cartoons from popular paid websites to upload them on an overseas server-based website for the past two years.
While South Korea’s webtoon market exceeded 724 billion won ($651 million) in total sales last year, the estimated damage by piracy hovered around 200 billion won or 30 percent of the total market volume, the agency’s data showed.
“The latest webtoon piracy case is a comprehensive example reflecting the reality of our copyright protection in several aspects” the KCOPA chief said.
While the complex investigation proved the need of a central government-wide agency in charge, it also revealed some major problems of the current regulatory system, such as the complicated and time-consuming administrative procedure, according to Yoon.
“KCOPA’s forte is that it is entitled to make its own interpretation on infringement, without being bound by related court rulings, and also take direct administrative actions, such as blocking access to infringing websites,” he explained.
The problem, however, is the rampant use of overseas servers, in which case the administrative process involves multiple executive organizations and takes several months until tangible action, he added.
Content distributed through overseas servers is subject to the information and communications law instead of the copyright law, thus requiring the decision of the Korea Communications Commission and the Korea Communications Standards Commission.
“There really is no technical barrier to blocking access to a network, including those based in overseas servers. Necessary measures including immediate shutdown could be possible, if only the related laws would so be revised,” he said, urging for the long-stalled revision of the Copyright Act.
The revision bill, currently pending at the parliamentary legislative committee, involves the addition of a clause which allows the KCOPA to cut off access to copyright infringing online content, skipping the communications-related watchdogs’ deliberation.
Should the revision take effect, the entire administrative cycle incumbently required in curbing overseas server-based websites is expected to drop from the current average of two months to about a week, according to officials.
“Considering the critical and irreversible damages of piracy, we are also working on a fast-track solution for emergent cases,” Yoon said.
The reason that the copyright protection agency is striving to take the initiative in piracy agendas is because conventional information and communication tend to approach the illegality of online content in a different policy perspective, the official also claimed.
“The KCSC tends to focus on the vulgarity of the given content, not so much on the illicit process of duplication and distribution,” he explained.
“Also, in order to minimize the damages, the top priority is to establish an exclusive headquarters that may nimbly respond to urgent issues around the clock.”
In such context, KCOPA is exerting efforts in two key projects this year -- one is the expansion of its digital forensic team into a comprehensive digital center on copyright-related investigation and the other is the establishment of a central operation center for copyright infringement.
“Digital forensic investigation refers to the overall process of collecting, filing and analyzing digital data according to standardized procedure so that the corresponding data may carry the weight of evidence,” Yoon said.
“Demands for such digital probe technology will continue to increase drastically, especially when it comes to intangible assets. Our vision is to lead the intellectual property sector by pre-emptively pioneering this digital forensic field.”
While the digital forensic center is to play its role in the technology and policy sectors, the operation headquarters will act as an emergency control tower that reaches out directly to content users and right holders.
“Our current system works on a combined network of 300 home-working monitoring agents and an automatic tracking system named ICOP, along with citizen reports and complaints,” the KCOPA chief said.
Based on such integrated efforts, the agency has succeeded in shutting down access to 403 out of the 478 illicit websites over the past years, he explained. The 75 which were excluded from the figure were those that chose to shut down or change their uniform resource locator during due deliberation.
”IP, including copyright, is often cited as a key factor to innovation but this may end in a vague slogan unless backed by visible policy actions,“ Yoon said.
”The core is to establish social credibility that creative ideas and content business will be strongly protected, so that individual players may optimize their creativity without fear of violation.“
The KCOPA chief also called for continued efforts to promote Korea’s copyright policies to emerging countries, as a model example of a fast-grown economy which has shifted from manufacturing-centered frame to a knowledge society within decades.
Each year since 2012, an interregional workshop on copyright enforcement is held in Seoul under the joint sponsorship of the Culture Ministry and the World Intellectual Property Office and joint supervision of KCOPA, KCC, and the World Trade Organization. This year‘s event, which took place in April, was attended by 99 copyright-related officials from 32 emerging nations, according to KCOPA.
By Bae Hyun-jung/The Korea Herald