South Korea's US-led copyright policy leads to 65,000 acts of extrajudicial censorship/disconnection/threats by govt bureaucrats

Tens of thousands of South Koreans have had their websites censored or been kicked off the Internet by their ISPs on the strength of a single, unsubstantiated accusation of copyright infringement, in a process that has no right of appeal, no right to face your accuser, and no right to see or contest the evidence against you.

South Korea changed its Internet and copyright laws a year ago, after being arm-twisted into a new set of rules as part of its US Free Trade Agreement (the US has also demanded new, tougher-than-domestic copyright laws in its FTAs with Australia, Chile, Central America, and many other states). Under the new rules, Korean ISPs are obliged to kick their customers (and their families) off the Internet after receiving three unsubstantiated copyright accusations.

But a second procedure allows the Minister of Culture to recommend that households be disconnected from the Internet; or that material hosted on web servers be censored, or that an ISP send a threatening "warning" letter to a customer. In the past year, the Minister has sent out 65,000 "recommendations" to Korean ISPs, and in all but 40 cases, the ISPs have complied with the recommendation -- meaning that the recommendation carries the force of law. Except, unlike a law, it has no judicial oversight, no due process, and is handed down by fiat from an unaccountable government bureaucrat.

The US-Korea FTA was the template for the much-watered-down Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a secret, closed-door copyright treaty negotiation through which the US is attempting to write the whole world's copyright and Internet laws (South Korea joined the US in fighting to keep the treaty process closed and the drafts secret). South Korea was once the world's leader in the use of Internet as an engine for economic growth and civic engagement, far outstripping the US's own rather anemic showing in the global league-tables for Internet penetration and speed. The US Trade Representative has done his damndest to undo that competitive advantage by forcing Korea's Internet to wear shackles and weights, and he wants to do the same for your country, too.

Hopefully, it's clear what's going on. Basically, the Commission has sent out a lot of warnings, and blocked/deleted a ton of content. A total of 31 users have had their accounts suspended -- again, with no indication that there was any number of warnings or pre-notice at all. Separately, the blog post in question does note that the other method (the actual three strikes way, involving the Culture Minister) has sent out a much smaller 275 warnings and 41 orders to delete content, but none to suspend accounts.

A Look At How Many People Have Been Kicked Offline In Korea On Accusations (Not Convictions) Of Infringement (via /.)


  1. What’s weird is that Obama has completely blocked the already-negotiated KORUS FTA (until Koreans repeal their gas-guzzler taxes and buy hundreds of thousands of Detroit-made SUV’s), so there’s no incentive to implement these bizarre measures.

  2. No right to appeal or judicial oversight? Not even under the Civil Petitions Act, the Administrative Appeals Act, or the Administrative Litigation Law?

      1. That’s why I asked. I don’t know anything about Korean administrative law, so I was wondering why you say those Korean acts don’t apply here.

  3. I don’t know if this has been proposed yet, but ACTA can be used against itself. Simply pose as a lawyer (or get a lawyer) to “protect your copyright” against individual and corporate websites. Contact their ISPs, file a complaint that they are using your “copyrighted” material and give them a taste of the ACTA. This could become the world’s largest DDoS. This would show just how enforcing the ACTA is against the interests of everyone.

    1. The ACTA (and other similar measures like the DMCA or any 3 strike law that may come around) does not apply to the corporations. It only applies to the individual citizens.

    2. Wow, interesting idea.

      It feels intuitively good in a “revenge!” sort of way, but what would it lead to practically? Any legal eagles on the forum?

  4. Too much important history and culture, that has already made the money it’s going to make, or not, is being locked away where it will be lost to history, because the copyright holders can’t bring themselves to leave even a nickle on the table.
    They would rather spend millions getting that nickle than admit that they have gone off the deep end!!

  5. Just wanted to mention that Chile’s FTA obligations to amend its copyright laws resulted in a huge citizens movement to pressure legislators to adopt a hands-off approach regarding the Internet as much as possible (the campaign was called “I’m not a criminal”.

    As a result, Chile now has more exceptions and limitations (although there is no general rule for fair use: ripping a CD to your computer is still illegal), and the DMCA safe harbor for ISPs and notice and takedown procedure are not draconian: notice and takedown is judicial, which in turn is an incentive for copyright holders to actually go after people that really infringe due to the associated costs.

    There is no three-strikes type norm. At some point it was mentioned as a legislative proposal, and as a secret agreement between the government and SCD, the largest Chilean music collection agency; but the public outroar against the rumor was so intense, that both the government and some legislators had to publicly state that such a norm was not even being discussed.

  6. This must be driving so much lost revenue back into the hands of intellectual property owners!


  7. “I don’t know if this has been proposed yet, but ACTA can be used against itself.”

    …don’t you realize it yet? ACTA is not meant to be a law (applies equally to all). It’s a TREATY, and worded as such. It’s not meant to apply to the lucky few. If your name is Apple Computing, Sony Music, Universal Studios, ect… you are on the other side of this treaty. You are sending the treaty, enforcing it down the one-way street.

    The people it will apply to?
    1) “organized” pirating empires (Pirate Bay, large scale sharers, ect)
    2) “competition” – lower cost/free services such as Google Docs
    3) “little guys” – consumers that get caught in the crossfire and made examples of to deter other end-users.

  8. “Everyone steals in commerce and industry. I’ve stolen a lot, myself. But I know how to steal!”

    -Thomas Edison

  9. I’ve been living in Korea for the last year+, and while this is a horrible thing, this isn’t nearly as scary as it would be in America. (Over time, that may change).

    Internet cafes are so very prevalent here, and quite cheap, even for the Korean locals. It’s not uncommon for the littlest town to have upwards of 3 or 4 cafes, for a population of 1-2 thousand (mostly, I think, so schoolgirls and boys can hide better when playing hooky from their after school classes). Most families don’t have their own computers, in their home.

    In terms of stifling dissidence, all someone needs is a flash drive full of salient information, and then they can go into any town wherever and put it anywhere, easy as lyin. (till businesses start getting shut down en-masse, it’s not a very effective censorship tool).

    A much bigger problem is the appalling libel laws– even worse than Britain! My journalist friend was explaining it to me: if someone just doesn’t like what you say about them– even if it’s true– they can sue you (they’ll win), and poof no more newspaper! But, that is another thread entirely.

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