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Korea: between hits on the screen and rights claims for the audiovisual sector

In line with the strikes conducted by Hollywood screenwriters and actors during August, the Directors Guild (DGK) of South Korea has urged the legislature of its country to revise a Law on Authors’ Rights which prevents directors from receiving residual payments on successful films, as well as from performing strikes for collective bargaining, according to the The Hollywood Reporter, the most important worldwide media of the audiovisual industry.

The article entitled South Korea’s Directors Guild Pushes for Bargaining Rights and Backend Pay from Streamers, Studios details how the Directors Guild filed a formal request with the Government which includes a collective bargaining complaint and the right to strike that seeks to amend the Authors’ Rights Law of the country.

The South Korean audiovisual industry has witnessed its own version of labor unrest since directors seek to amend a legislation that has kept creators with no bargaining power.

Through protests and demonstrations on social networks, directors have expressed their discontent for the lack of recognition and compensation in a scenario where streaming platforms and recording studios have accrued benefits at the expense of audiovisual content creators.

The Directors Guild of Korea is pushing for the current Law on Authors’ Rights, which grants streaming platforms and studios the exclusive control over intellectual property and profits, to be revised.

The bid with Netflix

The law also prevents independent directors and screenwriters from the right to strike and collective bargaining. This restriction has allowed companies, such as Netflix and Disney, to avoid the pressure to pay fair remunerations to South Korean creators, despite global hits like The Squid Game.

Squid Game, series premiered in 2021

“Without reviewing the Law on Authors’ Rights, we have no bargaining power to address remuneration issues with production companies. We are not at the stage of discussing the details of payment distribution models, yet. Upon a revision of the legislation, we want to start debating and require minimum rights in order to share revenues with companies so that, somehow, the final remuneration is not zero like now”, the director Yun-jeong Lee, 1st Vice-president of AVACI and spokeswoman of the Directors Guild of Korea, told The Hollywood Reporter.

In the case of Netflix, the US Company has in its hands a huge percentage of the original film and television content from South Korea. Successful directors, such as the Oscar winner, Bong Joon Ho, who released his movie Okja through Netflix, and the well-known Park Chan-wook – member of Directors Guild of Korea (DGK) - who in 2022 received the award to the best director for his film Decision to Leave at the 75th edition of the Cannes Festival, are part of the platform template.

Yoon Jung Lee, Audiovisual Director and DGK Vicepresident

Bong Joon Ho, South Korean Director and Screenwriter Park Chan-wook, South Korean Director and Screenwriter

The case of The Squid Game is noted: the Netflix horror/thriller which is still one of the most viewed contents of the platform. A recent report from The LA Times shows it was responsible for a large part of the recent increase in subscribers and profits of the company of $160 billion dollars.

The South Korean Directors Guild is seeking for key amendments in the law, demanding professionals to share the profits from their creations with companies and to have a role in payment distribution decisions. The revision of the legislation is seen as a first step towards the fair remuneration of creators.

In this sense, audiovisual authors have been urging the South Korean Government to act as a mediator in negotiations between creators and companies. Likewise, they are advocating for the government to consider financing service providers who accept changes in the remuneration system.

Okja, directed by Bong Joon Ho Decision to Leave, directed by Park Chan-wook

Currently, there are several draft bills related to the revision of the Authors’ Rights Law awaiting action. Among them, a bill proposed by Lee Yong-ho, a legislator of the ruling People’s Power Party, in line with the position of the Directors Guild of Korea, which intends to allow directors and screenwriters to claim for an additional remuneration “if there is a significant amount” of imbalance between the consideration received by creators and the profits from the use of the work protected by authors’ rights”.

“Our requests are very basic right now”, Lee said. “We are not asking for a large amount of money. We just want to start the debate on the remuneration system and to create acceptable standards within the industry”.

The Directors Guild of Korea explained that the situation for most active Korean directors, under the current law, is very dark. It is assessed that its members spend an average of 4/5 years with only one production and they receive an average annual salary of 18 million won (13,644 dollars), which is less than the country’s minimum wage when applied to a full-time work schedule.

“We expect the Government to act as a mediator in our negotiation with companies and even to consider providing financing to service providers who accept the remuneration system”, Lee expressed.


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