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Internet firms on alert over FTA

Korea Times, Seoul

Internet firms on alert over FTA

Free trade agreement calls for tougher anti-piracy measures, may stifle the growth of user-generated content

By Cho Jin-seo

5 April 2007

Internet firms providing music, videos and other multimedia files are watching out for the government interpretation on the free trade agreement, as its draft contains much tougher anti-piracy measures on digital content than current regulations.

Some are expressing worries that the tightening of the copyright protection will hamper the growth of fledgling industries, such as UCC (user-created contents) and music sharing services, as Korea will have to follow the more meticulous U.S. standards once the accord is ratified by the National Assembly.

Internet users are also saying that the government should set up safety measures as the trade deal will allow copyright holders to easily gain access to identification and other personal information of the people who breach it. Currently, copyright holders must file criminal charges with the court in order to get the identification of people who distribute or use pirated software. But when the law is revised, they can simply request relevant government agencies for the information.

The government agrees that possible malevolent uses of the system can bring about massive personal information leaks, as piracy on MP3 music and video files is almost universal in Korea.

According to last year’s report from the Ministry of Information and Communication, only 16.25 percent of UCC videos circulating on the Web was actually created by users, while the rest were merely edited copies of existing materials such as commercial movies, music videos and TV shows. Other private reports estimates that more than 80 percent of music files on Koreans’ PCs are illegal copies.

"We are going to establish complimentary measures to prevent private information from being manipulated," said a ministry official who is responsible for software policy, on the condition of anonymity.

Another controversy is a clause that granted copyright on temporary copies of multimedia files, such as background music being offered by many blog and community service sites such as Cyworld, Naver Blog and Bugs Music. Often called a streaming or BGM (back ground music) service, such files are briefly downloaded and temporarily stored on users’ PCs while listening or viewing contents, and are automatically erased when the user finishes or turns off their PC.

"It is the matter of defining the range of ’copy,’" the ministry official said. "Until now, to define something as a copy we needed a physical trace. There are no regulations on such things in Korea, yet."

The ministry said that Cyworld and Naver will not be affected by the new rule as they already pay royalties to the copyright holders for their BGM sales. But other sites that do not pay for such services will be regulated, he said. One of them is Empas, a major search engine, as its "BGM Search" service locates and link users to songs from people’s personal homepages and blogs, all free.

"We cannot agree on their view on the copyright issue," an Empas official said. "It seems that they are going to make new regulations on the streaming-type music services. But we think that it is inappropriate to apply the concept of copyright to streaming files, as it doesn’t leave any record on the computer once it is finished playing."

Zagia, another BGM search service provider, says that it shouldn’t be bound to the FTA, either.

"We simply search for the location of the BGMs just like ordinary search engines," said its operator Lee Hyun-jong. "Unless a site has a direct control on the contents, it does not infringe copyrights."

The ministry official says that the introduction of the U.S. standard can actually become an opportunity for the Korean industry.

"Actually it’s a good thing. If we make new regulations and definitions about the streaming services, that will provide a minimal legal framework for the businesses," he said.