Businesses Asked to Pay for Playing Korean Music

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A second party business claiming that it owns copyrights of various Korean songs are requesting Korean-American businesses in Los Angeles to make proper payments for playing their properties for commercial use. As the 2013 lawsuit centering on music producing business Elohim is still ongoing, the conflict could become even greater.

“The songs owned by our company are used at [karaokes and other entertainment venues] without our permission,” said International Artists Company (IAC) president Beom-soo Lee. “We’ve made a request for them to sign a license agreement before May 12 and to pay an annual fee of $1,800.”

Lee added: “Violating copyrights could result in bigger compensation fee and may even lead to imprisonment.”

The songs IAC is claiming are primarily written by Lee’s father, Jae-ho Lee, the pioneering K-pop songwriter. Lee has written around 2,000 songs released in the 1930s and 50s.

“Karaokes and bars in Koreatown are using my father’s songs without permission,” Lee said. “They must sign a contract and pay a fee to do that.”
However, the affected businesses are baffled. As the lawsuit involving Elohim is still ongoing, the legal ground to decide whether playing music released in Korea in the United States is lawful has not been established yet. A few businesses are paying Elohim for using its music to avoid unnecessary legal troubles.

“We’ve been paying copyright fees to Elohim since January and that decision was mainly out of our control,” said a Koreatown café owner, only identified by his last name Seo. “This means that we’ll have to continue to pay for music owned by different companies. We can’t afford to do that.”

Elohim is requesting a monthly fee of $30 to $50 per business, as well as a 16-month worth of fees between 2015 and 2016. That is reportedly seven times higher than the fee karaokes in South Korea pay.

“We initially tried to come up with a uniformed system with Elohim, but we couldn’t reach an agreement,” said Lee. “Our fee is only $5 per day for a business.”

It remains uncertain if IAC’s request has a legal effect. Jae-ho Lee passed away in 1960. The copyright laws in South Korea stipulate that copyrights are only affective for 50 years after the owner has passed away. Hence, Lee’s songs are free of copyrights at this point.

“The songs have been registered separately at the U.S. Copyright Office, so the copyrights are still valid in this country,” Lee said.

However, critics still say that Lee’s request is not logical.
The fundamental regulation in Korea is that the copyrighted goods, whether tangible or intangible, should be treated equally both in and out of the country.

“We’ve already started getting paid from one business and we’re currently negotiating with other businesses,” Lee said. “We could end up taking legal action on businesses that refuse to use our properties without our permission.”

By Sangho Hwang