By Han Sang-hee
Trying to stop illegal music downloading on the Internet may seem like an impossible task, as young and old Internet users alike freely download copyrighted songs without awareness of the criminal implications.
In the past, music companies would chase after people who illegally downloaded music, but this proved to be largely ineffective in deterring other downloaders.
Now, the music industry has changed tactics. According to Lee Deok-yo, the CEO of the Korean Association of Phonogram Producers (KAPP), the industry is fighting against rampant music piracy through an information campaign featuring pop stars like Wonder Girls and FT Island
, and improving technical protection for digital audio files.
"We have sued people who have downloaded contents illegally, but we soon realized our actions would not help in rooting out the already widely-known and practice. The downloaders were young, high school and even middle school students, and it was quite a shock for them to be sued by an organization at that age. They didn't know what they were doing. They just wanted to listen to music for free", Lee told The Korea Times in an interview at the association's office in northern Seoul.
Launched in 2001, KAPP has more than 1,000 music-related agencies as members and oversees more than 140,000 songs, and also works with some of the best known music Web sites including Bugs and Mnet Media.
The association started the "Bul-ggeun Campaign" in 2007. With goodwill ambassadors like the Wonder Girls and FT Island
helping to spread the message against illegal downloading, the campaign has sparked interest among users and music lovers.
"In the past, compact discs were sold through retailers and wholesalers. Now, anyone can download anything and organizations like us can't track them all down. There are so many songs that are just slipping through our fingers without the creators even knowing. The Internet has brought a whole new media atmosphere, but our system and laws were not able to catch up. That was the major problem", he added.
When Korea realized the need of stopping copyright violations 40 years ago, there was Germany, which boasts a copyright history of 100 years, and Japan, to learn from.
"But now, in the online world, no one is better and faster than Korea. That's why it's so important for us to come up with a firm and fair plan and laws to protect not only our own songwriters, but also those abroad", Lee said.
KAPP and other copyright agencies have been busy trying to come up with effective plans to ban users from downloading illegally.
Technical protection measures have been used worldwide but music technology experts here have come up with a more elaborate, five-level measure for digital audio.
The first level bans certain lyrics and titles. When users find a way by playing with the words in both the Korean and English languages, the second level kicks in, banning the lineups and mix-ups of certain words.
The third level bans particular types of files, such as MP3 or AVI files, from being downloaded, while the fourth recognizes certain hash functions, or the digital function each song and movie has as a characteristic. The final level, which is currently only carried out in Korea, is the filtering stage, in which content production and distribution companies offer special servers that recognize the specific codes songs have. These songs are registered to certain companies like KAPP and when a user downloads or even uploads any kind of property registered, the contents will be transmitted to the server and be confirmed as property violation. As soon as server recognizes the codes, downloads and uploads are cut off.
Lee stressed the importance of bringing awareness to the young as well, as young Internet users tend to ignore or even aren't aware of the need of having to pay for others' property.
"We've realized the need and so we've started to look into offering copyright sessions during music classes in high and middle school. These should be available everywhere. We hope to bring everything there is to know about copyright, from the definition to why it must be protected to how to do so.
"Music is like the arrowhead of an arrow. As culture spreads around the world, music is what touches the people first. That's why protecting music producers' copyright is so important", Lee said.