The court has ruled in favor of Big Hit Entertainment in a case with an unusual outcome in Korea among cases about “publicity rights” for the commercial use of names and faces of celebrities.
On October 17, the Seoul District Court made a decision on Big Hit’s injunction against company “I” regarding a book publication ban. The court stated, “You must stop production and sale if you don’t remove the BTS logo and members’ photos. The fine for violating this will be to pay 20 million won (approximately $17,000) a day to Big Hit.”
Company “I” produced packages comprised of items such as BTS photo books, posters, necklaces, and earrings and sold them abroad at a high price of 400,000 won (approximately $339) without Big Hit’s permission. Along with the usage of BTS’s logo and photos, “I” misled consumers with advertisements by saying, “We secured the rights to unreleased press photos through an official contract” and “We will donate a part of the profits in BTS’s name.”
Big Hit stated, “They engaged in an act of unfair competition that violates BTS’s trademark rights, made them mistakable as official products, and damaged our reputation.”
Company “I” refuted, “The BTS logo was used to explain the related article with no possibility of confusion. This is not an act of unfair competition since BTS’s logo is not widely known as a product logo across Korea.”
The court stated, “The act of selling packages using BTS’s name and a large number of photos without permission is considered an act of unfair competition under the Unfair Competition Prevention Act. BTS has significant recognition at home and abroad, has recorded No. 1 on domestic and international music charts, and achieved 100 million views on YouTube. The customer attraction towards BTS’s name and portrait in relation to product sales was created as a result of considerable investment and effort. Thus, BTS members have economic benefits that are worth legally protecting regarding commercial use.”
The court, however, did not accept Big Hit’s claims that it was a problem to use the stage names and real names of the BTS members, as well as RM’s United Nations speech.
In May, the court accepted an injunction that banned publication of an entertainment magazine filled with photos and articles about BTS after citing a violation of the Unfair Competition Prevention Act. Lawyer Hwang Eun Jung of law firm E-An explained, “Until last year, only three out of 51 cases were accepted by the Seoul District Court as ‘unauthorized use of another person’s success’ under the Unfair Competition Act. This ruling was virtually equal to acknowledging publicity rights.”
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