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Who Owns The Rights To K-Drama Stars' Images?

BY Julie Jones | Mar 17, 2015 09:51 AM EDT


Uee, who currently stars as the swimmer Do Do Hee in "Hogu's Love," lost a lawsuit this week against a company that used her photo without permission. It is the latest in a series of lawsuits that k-celebrities have filed concerning the unauthorized use of their photographs.

According to the Korean media outlet Chosun Ilbo, Uee took the case to court when an herbal clinic used her photo to advertise the benefits of its diet plan. The actress sued the clinic for about $18,000, as she said they ought to pay for the use of her photo. The first trial ended with a verdict in her favor. The court ordered the clinic to pay Uee about $4,500. But then an appeals court reversed the decision. On March 15 the Seoul Central District Court ruled against Uee. Korean law, unlike that of Japan, the U.S. or Germany, does not recognize the right of a person to own their photos for commercial use. The court also said that Uee's photo was only one of many used on the site.

It is not the first time that Korean celebrities have tried to sue companies for using their images without permission or compensation.

In January 2014, 38 celebrities, including Song Hye Kyo, Jang Dong Gun and Kim Nam Gil sued a Gangnam plastic surgery clinic for using their photos. The photos were not only used without their authorization, said the celebrity claimants, but they implied that the actors had plastic surgery and that the clinic's clients could look like them. The Seoul Central District Court ruled against the celebrities saying there was not enough evidence to show the companies profited from the use of the photos.

Song Hye Kyo also sued six shopping mall owners when they used a photo of her to sell accessories. The malls wanted to sell the earrings worn by her character Oh Young in the drama "That Winter The Wind Blows." But the court rejected her lawsuit.

In February actress and miss A member Suzy Bae sued an Internet shopping mall for using her image to sell what they called "Suzy hats." The lawsuit was dismissed.

The court summed up the rationale for the dismissal saying in essence that having your photo used like that was all part of being a celebrity.

"There isn't enough evidence to prove that as a result of the infringement of Suzy's rights to her image and name she was unable to sign new contracts or had to terminate existing ones, and we are dismissing her claim for damages because there is no evidence that she incurred financial losses," said a statement by the court.

According to Korea's media outlet KPopHerald, a bill is currently pending in Korea's National Assembly that would protect celebrity publicity rights.

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