Friday, April 13, 2007

Yongsan Crackdown?

Had a bit of a surprise when I went to Yongsan Electronics Market today. When I walked down the main road, where all the pirate DVD vendors are, I discovered a distinct lack of pirate vendors. Instead, I found this:

(Sorry for the crappy quality... I only had my mobile phone camera with me)

There were no vendors at all on the street. Not anyone selling anything. Instead, they were playing that familiar Korean protest music and sitting on aluminum foil mats, protesting.

From what I can gather, a private company, Najin Industries, has taken control of the street vendor racket in Yongsan, and has given the boot to all the black market merchants who used to line the road. The DVD pirates were, of course, not taking this lying down. Well, they were lying down on their mats, but they were not going without a fight. They put up posters on the new vendor stalls, voicing their rage.

Fast crappy translation:
"Street Vendors of Iron"
Under flag of the national street vendor association, come together and fight through blood and sweat to get our things back. Only by getting together can we live....
Ugh. It repeats the same silliness over and over.

Hey, it's the street vendor liberation song! You will have to imagine the martial tunes blaring on the loudspeakers, but here are their heartfelt words:
1) The more we are stepped on, the more we will stand up. We are fighting street vendors.
2) Even the if government will try to kill us, a million street vendors will march forward together.
Chorus: We will not retreat, to be human. We will get back all the disrespect at once.
Ahhhh. A million street vendors' brothers, the promise we made, let's win liberation.

And we had this handwritten sign:

"We've been here 10 years. We're very poor, barely able to get by. As a father of my family, for 10 years, Najin Industries has been oppressing us, so we have nowhere else to go. We have to fight. Najin Industries has been lying to street vendors and they tried to make a fight between store vendors and street vendors. Najin Industries should receive our challenge.

"Najin should immediately stop removing the street vendors without offering alternatives. Guarantee our lives. Najin should be responsible for where we stay."

Okay, I told you my paraphrase was fast, loose and crappy. But the original material is not going to win any poetry awards either. From the department of redundancy department.

There is something pretty special about so much self-righteousness coming from people whose entire livelihoods are built on stealing intellectual property.

So what does this all mean? Is Korea finally getting serious about cracking down on piracy? Nothing would make me happier if that were the case. Getting serious about combating pirate bootlegs would do more to help the local media business than any number of screen quotas or government-sponsored investment funds. However, a quick walk through the basement of the building right next store to the demonstrations revealed this:

Yep. plenty of places where you can buy all your usual Japanese anime and American TV shows. So if you need to stock up on your DVD collection, do not worry, there are still plenty of good locations.

Not that I bought any illegal DVDs. No, that would be wrong. Even for the shows that have not been released in Korea but that my girlfriend and I really want to see, that would be wrong.

And in an unrelated note, THE WIRE is the best television show, period. I quite enjoyed watching several episodes of season 2 this evening.


Lee said...

Is season 2 of The Wire available here yet? I bought (and loved) season 1 but haven't been able to find season 2 yet.

Unknown said...

Lots of free stuff there. The DVD guys are out becuase it is all going to the net. Why buy a disc wwhen yu can download for nothing.

Mark Russell said...

> Why buy a disc wwhen yu can download for nothing.

Uh, because I want people to keep making new programs and movies? That's a pretty good reason.

Also, because I want a physical copy for my library. Because I want the reliability that comes from legal content (cannot call a help hotline when pirated content goes bad).

No, I am happy to pay for my shows and stuff when I can. But if some big corporation wants to deny me content because of their inefficiency or whatever bloody-minded reason, then my morality gets a lot more flexible.

Anonymous said...

It appears that even Kyobo is selling illegally copied discs--the Gangnam and Seongnam stores, at least, have a 4900 won section where the DVD covers are full of typos and look to have been laser copied. Titles like "War the Peace." [sic]

Or could this just be a shoddy job by a legitimate local manufacturer?

Anonymous said...

I think the illegal downloading in korea is seriously doing bad stuff to the music industry especially. I too hope the korean government will start to crack down on illegal downloading.

Mark Russell said...

> It appears that even Kyobo
> is selling illegally copied discs

Yes and no. Remember, copyright in Korea is good for only 50 years, so movies that were made before 1957 are fair game (although that will soon be extended to 70 years, thanks to the free trade agreement). Although I assume that just because copyright has expired, a manufacturer does not get the right to use Criterion's or any other movie company's cover designs.

That said, I have seen plenty of movies on the shelves that clearly are not legal. Hong Sang-soo's POWER OF KANGWON PROVINCE, for example, was on sale at Kyobo and other places in Korea for years before it was legally issued on DVD. And those 5,000 won versions of IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE or WINGS OF DESIRE are (I am guessing) illegal knockoffs (given that there are 15,000 won versions of the same films).

So in some ways, copyright violations are less bad than they might look at first. But in other ways, they are worse.

As I have said before, the truly annoying thing is that none of the Korean authorities care, even though ultimately the biggest loser from this endemic piracy is the Korean entertainment industry.

Mark Russell said...

> I think the illegal downloading
> in korea is seriously doing bad stuff
> to the music industry especially.

Well, I think the crappy product is seriously doing worse stuff to the music industry.

But music is an interesting example. Last year in Korea, physical sales dropped to barely $100 million, while online sales topped $100 million and mobile phone music sales was around $300 million (those last two numbers are just early estimates). Point being, once Korean consumers had legitimate options for buying digital music, they flocked to those options. However there are almost no equivalents for online video content (thanks to the various government ministries which would rather squabble amongst themselves than help Korean consumers). Give consumers reliable, reasonable options, and they will overwhelming choose the legal over the illegal.

Actually, they might choose both, but as long as consumers are paying for content and that money is getting to creators, I do not care how much is not being paid for. Copyright is not some kind of abstract ideal (like free speech or free presses), it is a practical application designed to keep creators creating. The delivery networks for those creations are only important in as much as they help the creators.

Anonymous said...

^Lol. The music industry IS putting out a lot of crap. But I think there's a lot of good stuff admidst it all :).

So what's included in moblie phone music? (I'm assuming ringtones, right?) What about actual songs by artists? Are those included too? I'm curious what percent of that 300 million were earned through ringtones, and what percent through actual songs. Any idea?