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The History and Characteristics of South Korean Copyright Legislation

 

2019.06.10

 

Copyright born from publications, publishing industry bolstered by copyright

 

Copyright came to be thanks to the evolution of publishing,
but now, the publishing industry is becoming fitter thanks to copyright.

 

The Korean word 'jeojakgwon' comes from the English word 'copyright'. After the world's first copyright law was established in 1809 in the U.K., this word has been used allacross the globe. To directly define this word, it refers to the right to copy or make duplicates of something. The word 'copyright' didn't appear from thin air, and anyone can easily ask how the word came about - what someone tried to do that involved copying. The answer can be derived from Gutenberg's printing press. Prior to Gutenberg's invention, mankind could only create documents through writing by hand (on papyrus, clay tablets, parchment, bamboo, etc). With the printing press, the printing industry was born and large-scale reproduction of documents became possible. Before this, it was difficult for people to comprehend the efforts of authors who produced content due to the labor-intensive process that was copying by hand. However, with the introduction of the printing press and the birth of publishing companies that published specific content to earn great amounts of money, the rights of those who produced that content naturally began to receive attention. Eventually, that right earned the name 'copyright' and those in the publishing industry came to have rights to protect. Today, the rights of publishing companies who own permission to use content from the content producers are powerfully protected by the law, enabling the publishing market to flourish. Copyright came to be thanks to the evolution of publishing, but now, the publishing industry is becoming stronger thanks to copyright.
In South Korea, copyright law was enacted in 1957, bringing about changes to the publishing industry like the protection of an author's copyright up to 30 years after their death. In the immediate years after the legislation was passed, the law was formed of 75 articles in total, and most of them involved rights regarding publishing, like the right to publish and the right to issue publications. In those days, there was a limited number of industries where copyrighted material was used and the publishing industry obviously used them most of all. One unique factor was the fact that the law saw publishing rights as a direct right for writers, with the law stating "authors have the right to publish their produced content". Today, publishing rights usually refer to usage rights that are granted to those who are permitted to publish by the author who owns the original property rights. In spite of this interesting fact, the copyright law that was enacted at the time was reduced to mere words on paper as Korean society went through industrialization. Most Koreans were unaware of what copyright was and conventional thought at the time didn't place much weight on the rights authors had. To support this, there was even a Korean saying that went: "A book thief isn't even a real thief'. Due to this, there were rarely conflicts over copyright issues then.
However, in the year 1987, that changed. The country's copyright law was completely amended on July 1 that year to include the protection of intellectual property for 50 years after the death of the original content producer. That same day, South Korea handed in an application for membership to join Unesco's Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). After South Korea was accepted and all related processes were made final from October 1 that year, the country bore the responsibility of protecting the copyright of foreign publications as well. Due to these changes, South Korea's publishing industry was suddenly filled with uncertainty and began avoiding publishing translations of foreign books altogether. Unfortunately, as a result, the number of translated foreign books in South Korea remained paltry for a long time. Following this, the winds of change blew more fiercely, and eventually, South Korea came to adopt the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) in January of 1996 under the World Trade Organization after the Uruguay Round. In September of that year, South Korea also implemented the Berne Convention.

 

From analog to digital, copyright evolving with technology

 

Now in South Korea, like where there is income there are taxes,
where there is content there is copyright law.

 

From the 2000s, as digital technology grew more widespread due to the internet, new rights came to exist like the right to transmit data via the internet. E-books also entered the market, creating new and difficult situations for publishing industry workers who could no longer draw clear lines with pre-existing copyright laws. As a result, copyright law was amended again on June 29, 2007, to include broadcasting rights, transmission rights and digital audio transmission rights under an umbrella article called 'public transmission rights'. In June and December of 2011, more amended laws were enacted as requirements prompted by the passing of free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States. With these amendments, the term of copyright for a particular work was extended to 70 years after the death of the author or the date of first publication. South Korea's copyright law saw many other changes then, including the addition of exclusive publication rights and other articles on fair content usage. All of this was brought about by the swift development of digital technology, and the publishing industry was not to be spared. The age had come where all paper books were now subject to publishing rights and other publications like e-books had to follow exclusive publication laws.
Now in South Korea, like where there is income, there are taxes, where there is content there is copyright law. It is now common sense to not steal other people's ideas or published content, just like you cannot steal another person's property. However, despite authorities' attempts to move quickly, technology seems to be evolving at an even faster pace. Digital technology has steered us into the fourth industrial revolution where AI and the Internet of Things affect our day-to-day lives. It hasn't been easy for copyright law and publishing both born in an analog era to adjust to the age of digital media. Books can now be widely found on mobile platforms, and various technologies that previously took more than 1,000 years to move from the West to the East and vice versa, now travel across the world in a single file format in the blink of an eye. All problems begin and end with mankind. Only when we become loyal to the thought that creators should be respected in order for culture to develop, and the belief that technology is only a tool to help humans and that humans should not become it's subordinates, will copyright stand as a benefit to mankind.

 


Written by Kim, Ki-Tae, Prof., Dept. of Digital Content Creation, Semyung University

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Kim, Ki-Tae, Prof., Dept. of Digital Content Creation, Semyung University

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