Korea Gets Its Own Dancing Baby Copyright Fight; Says Free Expression Trumps Copyright Concern

If you follow copyright issues online, by now you’ve undoubtedly heard of the famous Lenz case, involving Universal Music issuing a takedown to YouTube on a 29-second home video a mother took of her toddler son dancing to a Prince song. While Universal didn’t protest the counternotice, the EFF sued, pointing out that it should have taken fair use into account.

Wonil Chung, an intellectual property lawyer in South Korea alerted us to a blog post he wrote about a case that is almost identical to the Lenz case in the US. It involved a father filming his toddler daughter dancing and singing to a Korean pop star. Again, a takedown notice was issued, and the guy sued in response. Of course, it’s worth noting that South Korean copyright law can be much stricter than US copyright law (in part due to lobbying pressure from — you guessed it — US entertainment industry lobbyists as part of a “free trade agreement” the US signed with South Korea). It’s also worth noting that South Korea’s concept of fair use is extremely narrow.

However, thankfully, the court sided with the father, pointing out that the video itself was not a substitute for the song, it had a non-commercial purpose, and only 15-seconds of the song were used. Perhaps most importantly, it noted:

“If this kind of UCC [User Created Content] is barred from uploading online, it results in a unnecessarily excessive restraint on the free expression.”

Even beyond that, unlike the court in the Lenz case, the Korean court ordered the copyright holder to pay the father for “mental damages suffered from the takedown.” This is nice to see, and Chung’s summary of the ruling pretty much wraps it up:

Another interesting part of this ruling is that the court clearly found that the free expression under the constitution of South Korea must be considered fully and fairly in determining whether there exists a copyright infringement or not. Although the Korean Copyright Act has a fair-use-like clause, the clause is stated relatively narrowly so there has been a certain criticism that Korean court is not active in holding up a fair use defense. But this ruling held that the constitutional right of free expression has the equal value as a copyright stated in the Copyright Act which is a subordinate law to the constitution. That’s why I welcome this ruling and expect to see the balance between the free expression and copyright with more fair use defences accepted in the Korean court in the future.

His full post has more details and quotes from the ruling.

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