Photos on Web create tangled web under law

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Photos on Web create tangled web under law


Media use of star photos circulated on the Internet has created a new marketing phenomenon, but what about people who don’t want their face plastered all over cyberspace? Cyberspace brings more complexity to copyright laws, and it seems anything can happen. Take model Min Hyo-lyn. She recently landed a deal to star in a music video for the popular pop group Shinhwa. Ms. Min was virtually unknown until a photo of her with no make-up started circulating on the Internet. People praised her “Western” nose and compared her to other Korean actresses famous for their well-shaped noses. Although the photos were thought to have been “discovered” by an Internet user who happened to come across Ms. Min’s personal Web site, it was later revealed that Ms. Min’s agency leaked the photos to stir up word of mouth. The agency did not deny that it used the Internet to promote Ms. Min. After the somewhat unofficial debut, Ms. Min hooked two contracts as a clothing model and most recently was cast in the music video. In June, a woman posted a photo of herself on her Web site. The photo showed her in a low-cut top, standing somewhere on the streets on the night the Korean soccer team played against Togo in the World Cup tournament. An unnamed Internet user copied the photo from her Web site and edited it, placing it next to a photo of an elven character, like those in the popular computer game, Lineage. The woman and the elf circulated the Internet like wildfire, topping the search rankings of major portal sites. The story did not end there. Persistent Internet users identified her as Han Jang-hee, who modeled for the album cover of a local hip-hop group, spawning rumors that perhaps the hip-hop group was trying to gain popularity before their second album, which has not been released yet. Pictures of Ms. Han in high school even made it onto the Internet, as people speculated that she had changed since then and perhaps undergone plastic surgery. A day after she posted the photo, Ms. Han closed her Web site, but even afterward, multiple broadcasting, Internet and even print media published her picture without her consent. According to the Korea Information Security Agency, information communication network laws state that information from someone’s Web site cannot be used without that person’s prior consent. However, an official at the agency pointed out that the rule is often violated, so it doesn’t become an issue until someone presses charges for defamation. But suing for defamation in Korea is extremely difficult, according to Sohn Su-yul, a lawyer at the law firm Taepyeongyang. Korean laws on defamation are very general, only stating that defaming someone is an act that publicly damages someone’s reputation. Laws do not differentiate libel, nor are there different standards for public figures and private citizens. “In the end, it is up to the court, which probably will make its decision based on precedent cases. But then, in the case of individuals, there are hardly any past defamation cases, so it’s hard to say,” Mr. Sohn said. by Wohn Dong-hee

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