On the 27th, the Seoul District Courts laid down a wise decision that will leave an impact in the nation’s entertainment business. They partially accepted the exclusive contract suspension request submitted by three members of TVXQ, YoungWoong Jaejoong, Micky Yoochun and Xiah Junsu, against their agency SM Entertainment. This means that the Courts have accepted that the 13 year exclusive contract forged between SM and TVXQ is in fact a slave contract and an unlawful one as well.
In the Courts’ ruling, they stated, ‘Until the lawsuit verdicts are made, SM is not allowed to make new contracts for activities related to the three members without their permission, and SM must not interfere with the three members’ independent activities.’ There are two voices raised on this decision: one that applauds the Courts for its actions against exclusive contracts that have been ravaging entertainment agencies in Korea, and one that worries that the Courts have not taken the specialty and reality of the Korean entertainment business into consideration.
However, many are stating that there is a need to change the infrastructure of the Korean entertainment business and set up a fair and just management system. There is a need to expunge the ‘slave contracts’ that have been uncovered by this trial as well as to protect the rights of celebrities.
This reporter intends to talk of the implications of the Courts’ decision, and the problem it presents as well as the solution of said problem in three parts.
1. ‘TVXQ Verdict’ highlights Social-Legal-Human Rights Implications
2. ‘TVXQ Verdict’ – Medicine or Poison to the Korean Entertainment Business
3. The Solution to the Exclusive Contract? …
What is most significant about this verdict is that the Courts have sided with TVXQ and have sent a warning to the agencies in Korea who have unlawful exclusive contracts that change is soon to come.
This decision can be seen as a helper to the future of the celebrities’ rights and interests as it has reflected the stance of the celebrity who is seen as the weaker side in the theory of power in the business.
Professor Lee Dong Yeon of Korean National University of Arts stated, “Many have pointed out that that although Korea’s management system has gotten bigger in size, it has not been able to escape the lack of lawfulness in contracts and management of such contracts either,” and “This decision by the courts will turn the system towards a more transparent, fair entertainment business that will become stronger with the change.”
Professor Lee also stated that he expects the verdict on the TVXQ dispute to help put an end to unlawful contracts in the entertainment business. This is because the Courts’ verdict will be firmly implemented into the business while the current ‘Mass Culture Artistes Base Exclusive Contract’ made by the Fair Trade Committee has no legal power and therefore cannot be implemented fully.
This decision by the Courts also left a big impression as it legally ruled that the past subordination relationship in which the agency ‘rule’ its celebrities is no longer acceptable.
Lawyer Park Joomin stressed that, “Although some may diminish the meaning of the decision as it is one made before the official suing by the three members, it was a ruling laid down by the Courts after observing and reading the evidence and the situation very carefully so the meaning should not be diminished at all.”
Lawyer Park also said, “The Courts have ruled that the main focus of this legal action was the unlawful contract, and the unlawfulness of this contract has been confirmed by the Courts, which means that the results of the Exclusive Contract Suspension request should not differ greatly with the verdict of the overall trial.”
There are opinions stating that this was a decision that further helped celebrities at a human rights scale.
Representative Kim Myung Shin of the Culture Yeon University embraced the ruling saying, “It is great to know that such a decision came out in a society that focuses more on marketing logic,” and stated, “Although it is important to expand the business related to the Hallyu Wave, the human rights of celebrities should come first.”
Representative Kim also stated, “In our society, the number of people wishing to be celebrities has increased which has resulted in supply exceeding demand so agencies tend to create contracts that will give them the upper hand,” and “I hope that this trial becomes the stepping stone towards a system with no evil practices and one that cares more about the rights of the celebrities.”
Such as these opinions have illustrated, there are many views regarding the decision laid down by the Courts, but many thought that this was not merely a solution for the members of TVXQ who are caught in an unfair exclusive contract to retain their human rights, but a solution that will be the foundation of an action to rid the entertainment business of unlawful contracts.
Many also believe that the current actions made by the courts will help ensure that the human rights of celebrities are not violated and will help the Korean entertainment business grow healthily and become improve.
The dispute over an unlawful contract between an agency and its celebrity has shown that there needs to be a change in the domestic management system’s infrastructure to ensure that another dispute similar to this one does not occur again.
There has been much praise that this ruling by the Courts has protected the rights of the TVXQ members as well as proved that the basic rights of celebrities should and can be protected fully, but the problem is far from over.
Some fear that the problem may escalate from this point onwards. This is because this decision by the Courts may have a severe backlash on entertainment agencies who use the system of training rookies before their debut.
In fact, after the news of the trial spread, some entertainment agencies began refuting the Courts’ decision as it “did not take into consideration the specialty of the Korean Music Industry.” They worried that the current celebrity creation system, in which agencies invest money and time into rookies until and after they debut, would become obsolete and that many of the nation’s agencies, which focus on creating idol groups, will fall into great danger.
Some believe that if TVXQ win this case all the way, a ‘domino effect’ will occur with other celebrities leaving their agencies or filing a lawsuit in the same method.
They also believe that the music industry’s Hallyu market that has been expanding through Japan, China, and southeastern Asia will suffer a severe blow, and that the Hallyu market will shrink because of this.
However, these voices are being persuaded to change their opinions with the thought that, “This ruling should be thought of as a chance to segment and rationalize the entertainment business which will result in a new and rapid growth of the industry.”
Lawyer Park Joomin said, “Although there may be fears that the entertainment industry may shrink, it is time for our entertainment industry to evolve into a parallel and fair relationship culture and go one step further in terms of maturity.”
Lawyer Park stated that there was a need for change in the celebrity creation system by saying, “It is strange to accept the current compensation theory that the one or two people who become stars out of the tens or hundreds of others that try out must pay for the investment money put into all of those people,” and “This is why the some of the celebrities who rise to stardom have their rights severely violated and are exposed to unlawful contracts.”
Professor Lee Dong Yeon of the Korean National University of Arts said, “This dispute is showing that an agency can no longer tie its celebrity down in paper,” and “Through this dispute, the entertainment industry must change its habits and outlook.”
Professor Lee also stated, “We must get rid of the acts that create perpendicular relationships such as extended contract periods and obscure income division,” and “If we see this dispute as the turning point for the celebrity raising culture, it can be seen as the ‘bitter experience’ that will make our entertainment industry stronger and lead it to a brighter future.”
Representative Kim Myung Shin of Culture Yeon University stated, “It is not that we do not understand the woes of entertainment agencies, but the human rights of the celebrities must be taken into account more than the worries of such agencies,” and “It is ‘a house of cards’ to force one side into sacrifice because the other was caught up in the theory of profit.”
It is interesting to see that many have interpreted the Courts’ ruling as one that is calling upon agencies and their celebrities to move from an unfair, and unlawful perpendicular relationship to an equal, parallel relationship.
Professor Lee Dong Yeon stated, “It is disheartening to see people interpreting the TVXQ dispute at only an economic loss and profit point of view,” and “The core to this problem is the need for an equal relationship between the agency and its celebrity.” According to Professor Lee, there needs to be a trust of ‘going together’ between the two sides, yet the lack of this trust was what set off this trial.
Professor Lee stated, “I hope that this dispute does not stop as a mere argument, but brings forth a new paradigm to the entertainment industry and sets off tremendous effort and thought to rid the industry from unfair relationships.”
Many are stating that in order for this dispute to help the Korean entertainment industry, it must break the set structures and create a new ‘win-win system’.
The entertainment agency cannot ignore the change of time and must work to protect the rights of their celebrities and create a more equal environment so that the celebrities and the agencies alike are able to grow.
Contract period limits, multilateral contract steps, the implementation of actions by the law.
Until now, we have scoured through the many problems that the Korean Entertainment Industry’s structure holds as well as the diverse meanings of the ‘TVXQ ruling’. Then what can be done to create a just contract culture that benefits both the agency and the celebrity? Solutions have been thought of.
First of all, there is a call to accommodate the recommendation of the ‘Mass Culture Artiste’s Basis Exclusive Contract’ suggested by the Fair Trade Committee. In this recommendation, the committee limits the length of exclusive contracts to seven years, and forbids any clauses that violates the personal life of the celebrity.
In the open debate held in August with the title ‘The Problems of the Celebrity Management System and their Solutions seen through the TVXQ Dispute’, the sponsor stated, “There is a need to accommodate the recommendation’s guidelines for an agency’s exclusive contract,” and “Extended contract periods, nontransparent income division, extreme personal life violation, and suicidal schedules must be removed and fixed.”
The thought of making the contract steps multilateral must also be taken into consideration. This is to prevent any further legal dispute by differentiating conditions depending on popularity and having contracts before and after the debut. There is also the option of creating short contracts that only last from one to two years.
Representative Kim Myung Shin suggested a set manual for contracts, stating that, “This dispute as confirmed that a contract created before the debut already holds clauses open to legal action.” She also said that, rather than holding idol groups in extended contract periods, it would be better to create flexible and changeable contracts.
Such as in the case of pro sports, agencies may also try an approach that creates a contract with a legal adviser in person to ensure that the contract abides all the laws. As sports agencies are the middlemen for players and teams, a lawyer could take on the same job for celebrities or their parents who may be lacking in legal knowledge.
Professor Lee Dong Yeon of the Korean National University of Arts stated, “We will be able to move from a strict relationship that creates today’s exclusive contracts to one that promotes transparent contracts,” and “This will inevitably help in the growth of the Celebrity Management system.”
Representative Kim Myung Shin agreed and added, “There is a need for legal aid to be available to celebritites in the procedures.”
What are more important than laws or implementations of such laws are communication and respect.
One way to lessen the friction would be to implement the monthly wage and incentive method that is in effect in Japan. In fact, some agencies in Korea have begun use such a method. In this case,the income earned by the celebrity’s activities is transparently revealed. This helps better the celebrity management industry’s image and trust.
But what must come first before any law or method is the trust and person-to-person relationship between an agency and its celebrity. This is the basis that will ensure safe and just celebrity activities and contract culture.
Professor Lee Dong Yeon pointed out that, “Agencies and celebrities work to seek monetary gain, but what makes a celebrity stay under the same agency is not the contract, but the relationship he or she has with the agency,” and “If such a relationship is not valued, countless cases such as this one will continue to occur.”
Mass Culture Critic Kang Tae Gyu stated, “Although the TVXQ dispute arose because of SM’s ‘management failure’, it got to such a point because ‘communication and respect’ did not exist between the two sides,” and stated that the revamping of Kpop was what is most needed. This means that what will create a greater trust than a contract is sound ‘communication and respect.’
It cannot be forgotten that appropriate education and publicity is needed for the protection of celebrities’ rights in order to secure the roots of a fair and just contract culture. Also, ways to rid the entertainment agency of its current situation must be investigated and inspected.
In conclusion, our entertainment industry must now listen to the voice warning us that, “Until the human rights are protected and the people in the industry are united, the sophistication of the Korean Mass Culture will be held back by its premodern system.”
This is why many are curious as to whether this dispute will help the Korean Mass Music and Entertainment system overcome its obstacles and thrive.