"(laugh) This shouldn't be printed... I didn't know their faces. Before they came, I kept playing their music videos and putting pictures of their faces on my computer screen so that I could memorize their names and faces. I kept getting mixed up between Choikang Changmin and YoungWoong Jaejoong but luckily(?) Choikang Changmin didn't come here."
Meet Lawyer Lim Sang Hyuk who aided three members of TVXQ, YoungWoong Jaejoong, Micky Yoochun and Xiah Junsu, when they submitted their exclusive contract suspension request against SM Entertainment. On November 25th, this is how the interview began with him as he waved his hand and said, "Don't ask me about TVXQ."
On October 27th, the Seoul District Courts partially accepted the request submitted by the three members. The Courts stated, "SM violated the economic freedom and basic rights of the members of TVXQ through their superior position. There is a high chance that the entire, or parts of the contract will be suspended fully." In words it was 'partial acceptance', and in reality, it signified the loss of the trial of the nation's biggest entertainment agency, SM.
What surprised the entertainment industry more than the Courts' verdict was the fact that the 'provisional disposition' method Lawyer Lim had used had actually worked. A provisional disposition is usually submitted when it is too late to submit a formal trial. A good example would be when the family of the deceased former President Park Jung Hui submitted a a press ban provisional disposition a couple days before the publication of the Glossary of Japanophiles.
-Why did you choose to submit a provisional disposition?
"In the case of celebrity contract disputes, there has never been a single case where the dispute goes to the Supreme Court in the past sixty years. For a formal trial to go to the Supreme Court, it would take 2~3 years but during this period, that celebrity cannot perform in any activities. Everyone starts a lawsuit and ends up giving up halfway through. Had TVXQ gone through with a formal trial, it would have been the end of their career."
Lawyer Lim stated that Sejong chose to submit a provisional disposition, people in the legal circles stated that, 'Sejong has made a mistake.' For a provisional disposition to be accepted, it must fit two criteria. 1. The contract should be nullified. 2. This is a problem so urgent that a provisional disposition is needed before the formal trial. Till now, all of the celebrity contract disputes have been ruled as 'not urgent'.
"We argued that this was a problem that needed to be dealt with immediately. In the case of idol stars like TVXQ, their lifespan is short so we stated that if we were to begin with the lawsuit that lasted 2~3 years, their celebrity career would be over by then. Therefore, the Courts accepted our claim."
Law Lim stated that not even he thought of a provisional disposition at first. "When we first discussed this, we told them 'We will be able to get this contract nullified. However, you won't be able to perform for a while.' This is probably why the two other members did not participate. After we told them that, when we were going through the legal process, that was when the idea came to submit a provisional disposition."
-How can SM retaliate?
"There are many ways. They can submit an appeal or a formal objection, or they can submit an Order of Filing a Lawsuit request which would tell us to, 'hurry up and start the formal trial.' They can also file a lawsuit on the grounds that they believe that the contract is valid. However, they have not done anything yet. We were able to get what we wanted through the provisional disposition. We were able to grant the members freedom to pursue any activity they wanted and stopped the contract. Of course, if the members were to be compensated for their income, then we would have to fight it out in a formal trial. But we are in no hurry."
-So many celebrities will begin using this provisional disposition method, right?
"We've given them a new method of commencing an exclusive contract suspension lawsuit."
Entertainment agencies can do nothing but be alert. Now the road is open that if the contract is deemed unlawful, a verdict can be laid down quickly by the Courts through a provisional disposition. "TVXQ has given their juniors a very big fight. Now, celebrities are able to keep their contracts or terminate them, they've been given another option."
The problem of unlawful celebrity contracts seems to be a long-term disease. It was put in the spotlight after the death of Jang Ja Yeon but then the situation calmed down once more.
-What is the reason that unlawful contracts occur frequently?
"It's because the barriers to entry are extremely high. It has come to a state where, without a large entertainment agency, it is impossible to debut. The singer doesn't get to question the content of the contract, all they can decide is 'should I sign it or not?'. Some of the clauses in contracts are very vague."
'SM will be in charge of all television appearances and all domestic and overseas activities.' This is what is said in the contract between SM and TVXQ. This controversial phrase is bound to be a cause of dispute. An issue that was including in this dispute was whether or not the three members' investment in a cosmetic company was an infringement on the contract. SM stated that it was indeed an infringement since the members could receive offers for commercials. The three members' side retaliated by saying, "So they are saying that the members must ask for permission even when buying stocks from Samsung Electronics. To say that the members must receive permission before doing anything, that is what a slave contract is."
-Why have even big stars like TVXQ endure with these contracts?
"The entertainment management industry is distinctively divided into Kpop, and non-Kpop. In the Kpop market, three major agencies are monopolizing the market. They train people, create albums, etc; they basically contain all the infrastructure necessary. It is hard for a new company to enter this market. It's a monopoly. Even TVXQ is on the second tier in this industry."
-What about other fields?
"The non-Kpop industry is a competitive market. As long as you have great connections and good people, you can succeed if you decided to set up an agency. This means that the barriers to entry are relatively low. The power of the agencies isn't as big."
For actors, they have an 'escalating clause' in their contracts. This means that even rookies can change clauses in their contracts if they become popular.
-Is there a way to stop this from happening again?
"The celebrities can go on strike."
The celebrities go on strike? It's a sight that is difficult to imagine. However, he was serious. If they couldn't go on strike, the labor union could work as the profits distributor, and if even this did not work, then the unfair system could not be fixed.
"In America, celebrities have labor unions, guilds. The production teams and the actors are compromising a labor collective agreement. Even when a rookie actor signs on to a production company, they have to get the signature of the labor union. It is hard for an unlawful contract to exist in such an environment."
-Will a celebrity strike really be possible?
"Haven't you heard about the American actors who went on strike?"
Last December, the Screen Actors Guild got to the brink of a strike. This was because their labor collective agreement negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was broke down. In June, the labor collective agreement negotiations, which dragged for almost a year, was finalized and the long dispute was finally stitched up.
-Will this be possible in Korea?
"It will if Bae Young Jun and Jang Dong Geon move." He stated that a 'passionate person' was more important than a 'structured individual'. He held the Korean Radio & TV Writers Association as an example.
"In the contract script writers sign with broadcasting companies, it is so equal that it is hard to differentiate between the company and the writer. This is because Writer Kim Soo Hyun took the lead." Writer Kim solved the copyright issues with broadcasting companies by advocating a strike during 1987~1995."
-When it isn't their business, will Korea's top stars take a stance?
"In America, top stars such as Richard Gere and U2 took a stance. In our nation, no one is willing to step up to the plate. Even though the verdict of the Court has been released, no famous celebrity dares to even make any implications about the TVXQ dispute. If this was America, all the top stars would have said something by now."
Then we asked the question that we most wanted to ask. A terse answer was given.
-Doesn't the statement of the agency have a certain amount of reason too?
"It has been the theory of entertainment agencies for tens of years that 'overextended contracts are inevitable because of dangers in investments.' However, the Courts have never recognized this theory."
The verdict of the Courts is always clear and concise. Even in this case, the Courts staged, "It cannot be said that dangers in investments can justify overextended contracts and excessive compensation. There are always dangers when it comes to investing in any market and that is a part that can be compensated."
A change has already begun. JYP Entertainment put in place a new basis for contracts last month. The Fair Trade Committee ruled that the contract JYP made was a 'fair contract' that fit the criteria of the committee's basis for contracts. A law to reform the way the entertainment industry is run is also to be the center of discussion in the National Assembly.
"This method that is currently being used must stop. We cannot let this industry, that oppress people and squeezes them dry for profit, continue."
Lawyer Lim is counted as the 'second generation' celebrity specialized lawyer. This means that he does not consult and legally fight for an individual celebrity, but the celebrity-culture industry as a whole. Those such as Lawyers Choi Jung Hwan and Hong Seung Gi, who have dealt with countless celebrity-related lawsuits, are called first generation lawyer. It may be because major law firms Sejong and TaePyungYang have steeped up to take on the issue, but it can be seem that this dispute between an entertainment agency and a celebrity has moved to a second generation level. One wonders if the entertainment industry will change as much as this dispute has evolved.
"This is a chance of a lifetime. Thanks to TVXQ's name sake, this issue has been publicized and a new 'weapon' of the provisional disposition has been given to celebrities."
Source: [kukinews+DNBN] Translation credits: firstname.lastname@example.org Shared by: tohosomnia.net Do not remove/add on any credits