Introduction to the Right of Publicity in South Korea

The legal concept of right of publicity is relatively new one in South Korea.  About 25 years ago, affected by the U.S. entertainment law cases, the Korean legal society began to theorize the concept of right of publicity, and finally the lower courts of Korea approved the right of publicity, although there is no ruling from the Supreme Court and no express statute provisions are established.

According to the Korean lower court’s rulings, the right of publicity is an exclusive property right independent from the traditional right of privacy.  It is a property right to use the name, portrait or any other identity of a person for commercial purpose and to control the use thereof.  The courts have ruled that the right of publicity can be transferred and inherited.  Not only a living person but also a dead person has the right of publicity, which is protected during 50 years from the date of death.

In Korea, there have been many cases where celebrities and sports stars claim their rights of publicity against various types of unauthorized commercial exploitation of their identity.  For example, in 2006, in a case where a Korean game company used pro baseball player’s name and personal record in their mobile baseball game, the Seoul Central District Court held that pro baseball players have the rights of publicity as to their names and personal game records so the game company which had used the player’s name and personal record without player’s permission had infringed the player’s right of publicity.  With that said, the court ordered the game company to pay monetary compensation to the players.

Regarding the foreigner’s right of publicity in Korea, there has not been so many cases.  Recently Emelianeko Fedor, an internationally renowned MMA star, has filed a right of publicity infringement lawsuit to the Seoul Central District Court alleging a Korean Honey maker’s organization had used his identity in their advertisement without his permission.  The Seoul Central District Court, however, dismissed the case holding the sports star had agreed to appear on that commercial.  As the right of publicity is a right granted to a natural person, not only to the Korean national, it is translated foreign celebrities and sports stars are equally entitled to a right of publicity relating to the unauthorized exploitation of their identities in Korea.

If you have more questions on the right of publicity or any other Korean entertainment law, please visit our legal consultation page above.

© 2009 Wonil Chung, a Korean entertainment lawyer / Chung & Partners, a Korean Law Firm.  All rights reserved.  Some copyrights, photos, icons, trademarks, trade dress, or other commercial symbols that appear on this post are the property of the respective owners.

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