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[VIEWPOINT]Suddenly, plagiarism is our concern

Apr 02,2006
What had been expected has finally come to pass. The international media reported on March 31 that Korean pop star Lee Hyo-ri, in the song “Get Ya,” was accused of plagiarizing “Do Something” by Britney Spears, the American pop star. The American composer of Spears’s song complained to his copyright agent in Korea about the alleged plagiarism.
Plagiarism itself might not be of news value, because of its frequency for many decades. However, our plagiarism has now become an international issue. And the possible indemnities are huge.
From the time Lee Hyo-ri released “Get Ya” in early February, some said it was similar to Spears’s song.
At that time Lee Hyo-ri said, “I am a pop singer. If certain music is trendy, I would use it without worrying about plagiarism.”
She argued that she was following a “trend,” even though her song might have sounded, in parts, similar to another song. Her argument seems to be based upon the indifference we have shown to the plagiarism in general until now.
But the situations have changed roughly because of two factors.
One is the Internet. Web watchdogs have made sure the controversy doesn’t go away. The copyright agent in Korea for the Spears’s song said, “We had no choice but to make an inquiry to the composer of ‘Do Something’ in the United States,” due to the never-ending controversies among the Web watchdogs in Korea.
Another factor is Lee Hyo-ri herself. She is a top local model and representative star of Hallyu, or the wave of Korean pop culture. Her fame attracted the interest of the Web watchdogs.
More than anything else, Lee Hyo-ri earns a lot of money. Plagiarism can only become an issue if the victim complains - it’s not an issue to a third person.
And when the original copyright holder files a lawsuit, the profits the plagiarist gains from the act of plagiarism are targeted.
The copyright holder of a song would not take legal action against a plagiarist if there were no profits to be gained, otherwise money would be spent on legal fees for no reason.
The composer of “Do Something” surely believed that Lee Hyo-ri earned profits from the song “Get Ya.”
Controversy over plagiarism in other areas of popular culture has not yet become an international issue.
The film “Rooftop After School,” released on March 16, had a similar plot and situations to an American movie, “Three O’Clock High.” But the American production studio has kept silent. There are no records of anyone in the United States complaining about the Korean movie. However, if “Rooftop After School” becomes a hit, the producers of “Three O’Clock High” will probably file a lawsuit.
Our country’s pop singers still follow the plagiarism criteria issued by the Korea Public Performance Ethics Committee, which became invalid in 1999. Those criteria say that in case more than eight bars between two songs are identical, it is plagiarism. Digital technology has made those provisions almost pointless. In other areas too, the provisions and practices are loose, and in confusion.
But foreign countries are very strict on plagiarism. George Harrison, a member of the Beatles, provided a famous case. Harrison, when accused of plagiarism in 1970, contended that he did not copy intentionally. The judge acknowledged this. But on the ground that it was an unconscious plagiarism, the judge sentenced him in 1976 to pay $400,000.
In 1991, the New York Federal Court of the United States began its decision regarding a plagiarism with one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shall not steal.”
We are in an age in which foreign countries are imposing a morality on us that we have neglected. At the spearhead of this change stands Lee Hyo-ri.

* The writer is the cultural news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Oh Byung-sang


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