K-Content Pirates Face New ‘Copyright Crime’ Investigation & Analysis Units

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The government of South Korea says it will ramp up efforts to prevent online piracy of valuable local 'K-Content' including movies, TV shows, and increasingly popular short-form comics, known locally as 'webtoons'. With the launch of the "Copyright Crime Scientific Investigation Team" and the "Copyright Crime Analysis Center" it's hoped that the increasingly internationalized and sophisticated nature of online infringement can be tackled more effectively.

SK-1The ‘Korean Wave’ cultural phenomenon, boosted by movies and TV shows such as Parasite and Squid Game, and once in a generation musical mega-groups like BTS, has captivated audiences thousands of miles beyond South Korea’s borders.

These cultural exports have overcome language barriers, generated huge sums of money, and further boosted South Korea’s image on the world stage. These are impressive accomplishments for the country’s entertainment sector but having hit the big time, the downsides of success are apparent too.

While global recognition and escalating riches are supported by healthy increases in media consumption, that attracts piracy rates typically associated with the most successful entertainment content. Not that the government or rightsholders have simply allowed that to happen, of course.

South Korea’s efforts to seriously reduce piracy were evident in 2009 when a revision of the Korean Copyright Act introduced a “three strikes” administrative program to disconnect repeat infringers from the internet. However, for the next few years, authorities focused on hosts and facilitators of infringing content instead.

Internationalized Piracy, Internationalized Response

Over the decade-and-a-half that followed, South Korea and indeed the rest of the world discovered that making content widely available at a fair price is one of the best ways to increase revenue. Yet to date, and despite increased consumption of legal content, almost nothing has been truly effective at permanently reducing headline piracy rates.

To tackle an increasingly professional and internationalized piracy market, rightsholders have been forming coalitions to fight piracy as one, with the huge Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment providing the most obvious example.

Earlier this year, South Korean rightsholders were said to be working with ACE and government officials as part of a sustained effort to take down Noonoo TV, a giant illegal streaming platform said to be particularly damaging to the local market.

The site’s collapse just weeks later may be a sign that when everyone pushes in the same direction, progress can be made against even the most difficult targets. It appears the South Korean government intends to maintain the pressure.

Determined to Protect K-Content

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) says it has launched two new entities to strengthen the investigative capabilities of the Copyright Special Judicial Police (CSJP) to tackle the illegal distribution of K-Content.

The Copyright Crime Scientific Investigation Team reorganizes existing investigation resources into four teams, together responsible for planning and investigations, international cooperation, domestic crime, and investigation support. The Ministry says this establishes a scientific investigation system based on digital forensics to specialize and streamline investigative capabilities.

Roles and Responsibilities (translated, original KoreanSouth Korea - New Unit

The Ministry said it will also operate a new Copyright Crime Analysis Center to investigate the illegal and increasingly sophisticated and internationalized distribution of K-Content. The center will use the latest digital forensics software, evidence replication and analysis tools, plus other equipment for “advanced criminal investigations.”

One of the goals of the new center is to overcome a reliance on previously seized materials, by developing the ability to analyze illegal sites and their distribution routes in advance. The Ministry says this will enable “rapid and dense investigations, forensic analysis, and the safety of digital evidence management.”

The center will also be used for international cooperation meetings between domestic and foreign investigative agencies and law enforcement.

Progress to Report

Over the past 12 months, the Ministry of Culture says that piracy investigations led to the arrest of four site operators and eight uploaders linked to three eBook piracy platforms. Action against streaming service BeeTV also gets a mention.

“In addition, the ministry has been stepping up its efforts to arrest copyright infringement criminals, including the arrest of three workers who operated BeeTV, an illegal IPTV piracy service, and transmitted broadcasts without authorization,” the report notes.

Other successes include the arrest of “a heavy uploader who shared domestic broadcasts and online video service (OTT) videos as torrents to mine BitTorrent coins,” and the arrest of another major uploader who earned over $101,000 by by sharing TV shows and anime on 17 local file-hosting platforms.


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