South Korea: Controversial Launch of Online Music Video Rating

South Korean authorities have launched a new ratings system for music videos posted online. The new bill requires every music video (or promotional video) and even movie trailers to be rated prior to upload. Failure to comply will result in up to two years in prison or a hefty fine.

Artists and South Korean net users have labeled it a new form of enhanced censorship on cultural contents and a regression in freedom of expression. It comes into effect starting August 18, 2012.

Censorship extends to online platforms

Previously, only television stations were responsible for airing music videos, whereas the new bill extends the censorship to video clips published on online platforms, including YouTube, blogs and Internet bulletin boards. The law is applied even to clips, not for profit organisations, and various music and movie teasers.

The authorities argue that the new measure is to protect young, impressionable audiences from the flow of indecent or violent music videos. Some predict [ko] the bill will first make content labeled ‘not for children under age 19′ by the Korea Media Rating Board inaccessible to mass audiences, and in the long-run (as one media pundit worries [ko]) will eventually lead every citizen to ask for, or at least consider, permission before uploading any content online.

Image of censorship, by Flickr user Isaac Mao (CC BY 2.0).

Image of censorship, by Flickr user Isaac Mao (CC BY 2.0).

A net user who introduced himself as a 28-year-old working in the music promotion industry, filed an online petition [ko] opposing the new rating system. The petition has gathered more than 10,000 signatures. It reads:

지금 대한민국의 실태는 민주주의가 그리 크게 보여지지 않고 있습니다. 표현의 자유에 대한 무차별적인 탄압. 무엇만 하면 청소년 유해매체 지정.  납득이 안가는 사유로 창작 예술인들의 사기를 꺽어버리고 있습니다.  그러던 도중 공산주의국가에서나 벌어질법한 법이 계정되었습니다.  바로 영등위에서 공포한 뮤직비디오 등급분류제도입니다.[…] 검열을 거치지 않은 뮤직비디오를 게시할경우엔 벌금 2000만원이나 징역2년 이하의 처벌을 받게된다고 합니다. 우리나라의 음주운전의 최고형은 벌금 1천만원에서 징역 1년 정도 입니다.그런 범죄를 저지른 사람들보다 못한 취급을 받게 되었습니다.[…] 이거 마저 그냥 넘기면 나중엔 공연포스터,앨범의 자켓,공연티켓 까지 검열을 받는 법이 생겨나지 않으리라는 장담하지 못합니다.

The concept of democracy is quite hard to find in South Korea. There are indiscriminate attacks on the freedom of expression. The authorities have blindly labeled any cultural attempts as ‘harmful for kids’ and successfully dampened the morale of artists. Now they have even passed a new bill entitled “Music Video Rating System” that would fit better in a communist state […] When publishing uncensored music videos online, people could face up to two years in jail and a 20 million Korean won (USD 17,760) fine. The maximum punishment for DUI [Driving Under Intoxication] in South Korea is only up to one year in prison or [a fine of] 10 million Korean Won. We are under a situation whereby people can be treated worse than those DUI drivers just for uploading content online. If we let this happen, who knows? Next would be another law censoring any concert posters, album covers and even concert tickets.

This net user also noted that despite the authorities’ claim that they hosted an informational session about the new bill in mid-July, most musicians were uninformed about the bill.

Clear definitions?

On the concerns that it will eventually affect everyone, the authorities asserted that the regulation will not be applied to “non-business individuals”. Struggling indie musicians, however, beg to differ. Singer-songwriter, Lee Yoon-hyuk, raises questions [ko] on what constitutes as “non-business individual” and added there is no clear legal definition to “music video”:

적용 대상이 ‘사업자’ 입니다. 일단 여기부터가 좀 애매해 지는게. 홍대 쪽에서 활동하는 아티스트형 음악가들의 경우, 정규 유통과정을 통해 음반을 발매하고 영리활동이 이루어 진다면 사업자로 분류될 수 있다고 합니다[…] 음악가가 ‘사업자'로 분류된다면 그들에 의해 기획/제작된 모든 음악 실연영상 등이 심의 대상이 될 수 있습니다. […]현재 ‘뮤직비디오'에 관한 법률적 정의는 없고 음악영상물(음원의 내용을 표현하기 위해 당해 음원에 영상이 포함되어 제작된 것)이라고 표현되어 있는데, 이는 통상적인 뮤직비디오를 포함하지만, 법 집행을 엄격하게 한다면 아티스트의 자유로운 연주와 퍼포먼스를 담은 영상까지도 포함될 수 있는 여지가 있습니다. 이렇게 되면 정말 곤란해지는게… 홍대씬에서 쏟아져 나오는 공연실황, ucc, 기타 영상물들을 합하면 수가 어마어마 할텐데[…] 유투브의 제제는 어렵지만 업로드한 사업자에 관해서는 제제를 하겠다고 합니다. 벌금 물린단 얘기겠죠? 돈 없어서 잡혀가는 사람도 생기겠군요.

The authorities say “business individuals” are the ones affected by this new law. But the line gets blurry from here. Indie musicians in the Hongdae area [the area is famous for its indie spirit, teeming with street artists and underground band musicians performing live on the street] can also be categorized as “business individuals” if they release an album and make some profit from it. Once they were labeled as “business individuals”, every song, every clip of their (small or big) concerts or performances which were produced or directed by them, become objects for monitoring. […] There is no strict legal definition to ‘music video’ yet. What we have is “the music video clip” which defined by the law ‘some content including video clips to express the music source (referring to the original song).’ Customarily, it points to the music video, but if they extend the application of the law, this may include artists’ casual performances and clips containing those performances. This poses serious threats since there are numerous video clips that capture live scenes of (indie) musicians’ performances in the Hongdae area, UCC (User Created Content) and other kinds of various video clips. If these were included, tremendous number of videos will be affected […] In case of YouTube, although it is bit tricky to regulate, they say they will regulate the “business individuals” who upload the videos — which means that they will fine people for uploading the videos. And it is possible people may get arrested if they cannot afford to pay the fine.

Twitter user @romantic_ct complains [ko] about the screening fee:

뮤직비디오 사전 등급 분류 심의 제도. 강제성을 띄고 심의를 거치지 않을시, 벌금등의 압박을 표면에 드러내놓고선 심의 수수료를 받네요? 강제로 돈내고 심의를 받으라니. 이거 왠 개적같은 상황입니까. 방송심의 대행하는 곳조차 심의 수수료같은건 없어요.

This music video pre-screening and rating system: Although it is mandatory and the authorities openly pressure people to go through the process by imposing fines, they still charge people to get screened! Can you ‘force’ and ‘charge’ at the same time? What the f**k is this? Even the agency screening content for broadcast does not ask for the screening fee.

The music industry has already been hit hard. One of the most prominent industry moguls, Yang Hyun-seok, who is the president of YG Entertainment, expressed worries [ko] that the new system disrupts the production routine, which starts with promoting a music video teaser online before releasing the album or airing it on television.

Some net users revealed [ko] the new bill have postponed famous singer, G-Dragon‘s new album release, which makes people more concerned as to what could happen to less powerful musicians without an agency to protect them.

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