APAA e-Newsletter (Issue No. 36, August 2023)

Protection of Publicity Right through Administrative Investigation

Hyoseon Choi, Kwanggaeto Patent & Law Office (Korea)

On the 26th, the Korean Intellectual Property Office announced the results of the “2023 Publicity Rights-Related Actual Condition Survey” conducted on 82 major music, video, and sports agencies in Korea.

The right to publicity refers to the right to commercially use the economic value of names and faces. The right to publicity is protected through the ‘Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act (Unfair Competition Prevention Act)’, which came into effect on June 8, 2022 in Korea.

According to a survey of agencies, 8.6% (of the total) that had experienced infringement of publicity rights, the most frequent type of infringement was the use of the faces of celebrities for advertisements without an appearance contract (57.1%). In addition, 42.9 % of them used faces or names of celebrities in their products without permission. Even 28.6% of the cases included faces or names of celebrities in trademarks or product designs. In addition, there were cases where the faces or names of famous celebrities were used for false advertisements and Internet domain names.

If the publicity right is infringed, an act of unfair competition may apply, and it is possible to claim civil damages and prohibition of infringement, which is subject to administrative investigation by the Korean Intellectual Property Office.

According to the agency’s responses, the biggest difficulties were: ‘determining that publicity rights had been infringed’ (64.6%), ‘preparing damage calculation standards’ (53.7%), and ‘proceeding with an infringement lawsuit’ (46.3%). Most of all, it was found that most agencies (80.5%) were having difficulties responding to infringement due to a lack of personnel dedicated to publicity rights in the company. Among the companies, only 19.5% had a dedicated publicity team and manpower.

The Korean Intellectual Property Office strongly recommends administrative investigation as the act of violating publicity rights constitutes an act of unfair competition.

An application for an administrative investigation is completely free. The Korean Intellectual Property Office runs an organization dedicated to administrative investigation (unfair competition investigation team) in order to conduct a quick and fair investigation.

If an infringement is recognized as a result of an administrative investigation, a corrective recommendation is made to the violator to stop the act, and if it is not implemented, the details of the violation will be announced to the media.

From June 2022 to May 2023, a total of 31 applications were filed for administrative investigations into violations of publicity rights.