Profs playing plagiarism detectives

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Profs playing plagiarism detectives

The Seoul Southern District Court has asked Seoul National University’s Center for Law & Technology to investigate whether the script of the highly popular MBC historical soap opera “Queen Seondeok” was plagiarized from an unperformed musical written by an obscure playwright titled “Queen of Mugunghwa, Seondeok.”

It’s highly unusual for a court to ask a university to weigh in on a copyright infringement case.

“We often get assessments by doctors or architects in civil suits,” said an officer of the court, “but this is the first time we’ve assigned a university to help with a copyright appraisal.”

In January, Kim Ji-young, representative of Great Works Ltd., a culture content company, filed a suit against MBC and two screenplay writers saying they ripped-off her script for “Queen of Mugunghwa, Seondeok,” a musical she said she wrote in 2005. Kim asked for 200 million won ($181,159) in compensation and an injunction banning the broadcast of the soap opera.

The injunction was turned down and “Queen Seondeok” ran from May to December 2009, but the copyright case is ongoing.

Kim argued that the development of the story and conflict between characters are similar to her play, including discord between two major female characters, Seondeok and Misil; a romance between Deokman (Queen Seondeok’s name before becoming a queen) and General Kim Yu-shin; and the story of the young Deokman wandering through a desert.

MBC maintains it did not know of the existence of Kim’s play. MBC copyrighted its script in May 2008.

Kim asked the court for an assessment by experts, and the court turned to SNU for help.

Jong Sang-jo, a professor at SNU and director of the SNU Center for Law & Technology, dubbed the procedure an “anatomy of scripts,” identifying the line between historical facts and literary creations.

“Just as the National Institute of Scientific Investigation carries out an autopsy on a corpse,” Jong said, “we do a script autopsy to discover plagiarism.” Instead of a scalpel, he said, researchers use history books.

The SNU Center for Law & Technology first identifies similar content in the two scripts. At that point, historians confirm historical facts regarding the characters and plot. Afterward, the center makes an appraisal based on copyright laws. The court will make the final adjudication.

“As popular dramas and movies based on history continue to be popular,” Jong said, “these kinds of disputes are likely to increase.”


By Shim Seo-hyun [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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