Recently, several songs on Lee Hyo-ri’s latest album, H-Logic, have been accused of being plagiarized. After initial denials by Lee’s agency, Mnet Media, she admitted that they were, perhaps the first time that a K-pop artist has ever done so, and then ended promotions for the album.
(The Joongang Daily has a summarized history of artists previously accused of plagiarism, including Hyo-ri herself, and you can go here to listen to samples of Hyo-ri’s songs and those that they’re supposed to have been plagiarized.)
The songs were submitted to Mnet by a seven-member songwriters’ group called Bahnus Vacuum, led by Bahnus (Lee Jae-young), who tried to prove his innocence by providing documents that were later found to have been forged.
Since many K-pop artists don’t write their own songs, and rely on people like Bahnus, the scandal is threatening to envelope other artists like Lee who relied upon Bahnus and his group.
Columnist Choi Seung-hyun elaborates:
The larger problem is how frequent [accusations of plagiarism] such are. Many if not most singers releasing new albums these days are accused of plagiarism. This is because singers have become cash cows rather than artists who are able to communicate with the public. Singers who present original songs about their own emotions are an endangered species, while a handful of composers contracted by powerful management companies dominate the tunes that top the charts. This increases the risk of plagiarism as each one of these composing machines churns out more than 50 songs a year.
Lee’s biggest mistake was in fact her failure to take charge of her songs and her album, contrary to what she has been saying in public. If a 13-year veteran of the entertainment industry and Korea’s reigning queen of pop is in such bad shape, things must be even worse for the younger singers who are being groomed by their agencies. Veteran rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Shin Jung-hyun said in a recent interview, “There is no real music on Korea’s pop music scene these days. There is only greed.”
Music critic Park Eun-seok would agree:
“It is highly likely that the management agency was fooled by the composer as the original songs are mostly non-mainstream,” music critic Park Eun-seok said. “However, this case clearly shows the abysmal reality of mainstream K-pop culture where songs are manufactured rather than created.”
So why is the nation’s music industry so vulnerable to plagiarism scandals?
As it turns out, Korea has no established system to handle such disputes. The Performance Ethics Committee oversaw plagiarism cases in the past, but since being renamed the Korea Media Rating Board in 1998, no single body has been responsible for resolving plagiarism issues.
Almost all cases are handled through informal negotiations, although copyright holders can bring cases to the Korea Copyright Commission or to court. Those convicted can be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of 50 million won ($42,000), but few cases, if any, have involved court rulings.
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“There is a widespread idea among fraudulent songwriters that they can get away once they take money,” Baak Eun-sok, a pop music critic, said.