South Koreans Are World’s No.2 Music Pirates, Or Are They?

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In 2009 South Korea introduced new legislation against online copyright infringement. Penalties were particularly harsh and included disconnection from the Internet. As digital sales skyrocket by more than 50% but logged infringements sharply increase, a report controversially places South Koreans as the world's number 2 music pirates.

South Korea was included in the International Intellectual Property Alliance’s priority piracy watchlist in 2009. It’s members, including the RIAA and MPAA, had been asking for tough action and in the middle of the year, that came to pass.

At the end of July 2009, new anti-piracy legislation took effect in South Korea which aggressively targeted illicit file-sharers and other online copyright infringers. The laws, created by the country’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, gave the authorities the power to disconnect pirates for up to 6 months.

According to the annual report of state-run piracy monitor the Korea Copyright Commission, it detected 35,345 cases of copyright infringement from so-called ‘cyberlocker’ services and P2P sites in 2009, nearly three times as many as the 2008 total of almost 12,000. Video and music infringements accounted for around 32% of all violations. Cases against individual file-sharers are still to be revealed.

This tough legislation was welcomed by the IFPI, who in their Digital Music Report 2010 labeled the action as the correct response to a “crisis”. The music group noted that digital sales had jumped 53% in the first 9 months of 2009, although sales of the same had already risen by 18% in the first 6 months of the year – pre-legislation – largely due to the fresh availability of legal alternatives.

However, according to the results of a survey carried out by Hong Kong-based Music Matters of 8,500 people in 13 countries, South Koreans still committed the second greatest number of online music infringements in 2009.

Released at the 2010 MIDEM event, the results revealed that the top spot was taken by the Chinese, with around 68% of users admitting they had downloaded music without paying for it. The South Koreans took second position with 60% with the Spanish coming in third with 46%.

The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has cast doubt on the report though. Apparently the question asked by Music Matters to those surveyed was a rather ambiguous “Have you downloaded music from the internet without payment?”

It’s impossible to say if the respondents felt that, for example, an ad-supported service like Spotify or other legitimately free services should be taken into account when giving a response.

In the meantime, the South Korean government has asked news outlets not to publish the results of the survey until they’ve had a chance to look into its validity. Those calls have been widely ignored.


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