August 15, 2009, Seoul—The Dong Bang Shin Ki incident, which erupted due to SM Entertainment and their unfair contracts, is struggling to find a resolution. In the midst of this, in order to prevent a second DBSK situation, the emerging consensus is that large-scale entertainment producers with capital must find a way to transcend the hard training model and utilise the media to come up with a better star management system.
On the 14th [August] at the joint cultural conference hosted by the Munhwayeondae held at the Francesco Conference Room on the ‘Exposing the problems of the entertainment management system and finding an alternative through the Dong Bang Shin Ki incident’, Hanyang University professor Tak Hyun Min, a panellist in the panel discussion section, said, “Even if SM comes out waving the white flag this problem won’t end,” and in order to solve the fundamental problems, “we have to make it possible for stars to make without having to depend on giant management companies.”
The logic of SM ‘If you leave us you can’t be as famous as you are now’ must be broken
According to Professor Tak, “Even up to the early 1990s there was no such thing as the giant entertainment company, and artists signed with record labels where, granted, the record label had the superior position relative to the rights of the singer”; also, “the one who broke this unequal relationship was Seo Taiji,” he emphasised. Although right now the one-person-led entertainment company is the norm, even up to the early 1990s it was a difficult sight to see.
He said, “Seo Taiji set up his own agency so that he wouldn’t become hostage to a record label or the press and his band would be able to produced the music that reflected their own style,” also adding that, “while Dong Bang Shin Ki’s personal interests in this are important, in order for Korean popular music, which has at its centre similar idol stars and groups, I would like to request [Dong Bang Shin Ki] to lead the way in finding a new and improved road for the pop culture business system,” revealing his position on the subject.
When one Dong Bang Shin Ki fan expressed, “It’s not going to be all that easy for Dong Bang Shin Ki to change the system like that as you say,” he replied, “If Dong Bang Shin Ki really has 800,000 fans and if those fans stand by the three members(Youngwoong Jaejoong, Micky Yoochun, Xiah Junsu) who deposited the injunction request for invalidation of their exclusive contracts in full support then it’s more than possible.”
The reason why SM was able to throw away H.O.T saying, “if you leave us you can’t achieve the same level of success/fame” is because they (SM) were confident of this idea, Professor Tak explained. This means that if Dong Bang Shin Ki becomes more successful even after leaving [SM], the issue changes entirely.
Professor Tak continued, “Those who will make it possible for these men to fill this role [of pioneers in the Kpop industry] are the consumers and Dong Bang Shin Ki fans who give them full support in the market,” and “if the 800,000-strong Cassiopeia and Dong Bang Shin Ki together make this a reality, it will represent an instance where our music industry and system turns inside-out [via fan-power].” Professor Tak added that what ‘Cassiopeia’ needs to communicate is “not a boycott against SM but that the other two should come out, that it’s okay to come out because you don’t need a giant management company to survive in the market and because we’ll help you.”
Dong Bang Shin Ki’s penalty for breach of contract currently 400 million USD
The panel’s follow-up speaker, Lee Dong Yeon, Professor at the Korea Combined Arts School pointed out, “The conditions of the contract between Dong Bang Shin Ki and SM clearly state that in the case where Dong Bang Shin Ki breaches the contract they would have to pay the management company the equivalent of 400-480 million USD,” adding, “for a contract arranged between Asia’s top-quality idol group Dong Bang Shin Ki and a top entertainment management company it is extremely unequal.”
He later commented, “If it doesn’t want the breakup of an idol group at the peak of their fame, SM will also have to accept a more progressive and far-sighted position” in a way that incorporates transparent income reporting as well as a stable ‘income distribution + incentive’ model in its solution.
Professor Lee Dong Yeon urged aggressive/enthusiastic actions from ‘Cassiopeia’. He stated, “First, you will have to communicate to SM that you find the position of the three members just and righteous, that now that the three members have taken the direction of stepping out of SM through a legal channel the fans are behind them and will no longer tolerate the five of them being abused by their management company or their managers; this is the kind of direct and aggressive stance that needs to be shown by the fans.” He also added, “I think that Dong Bang Shin Ki’s vocal skills and dance skills are currently the best in Asia and the idol market,” so, “if all of you (Cassiopeia) stand by them they should have no problem succeeding on their own.”
The Dong Bang Shin Ki incident must not be seen as a problem of finances but as a problem of ‘the right to health’ and ‘human rights’
During today’s panel discussion, a fan of Dong Bang Shin Ki, Ms. Kim Eun A, came forward to reveal the position of the fans. She said, “In the 68 months since Dong Bang Shin Ki’s debut they have been flown around the world six times” and that their year-long schedules didn’t even include a rest period longer than 2 weeks. “One time, upon completing their Japan tour, the same week they were flown to Taiwan where they had to use a different language and sing and dance to an entirely different repertoire. Such an inconceivable schedule has led fans to say, this must be why their name includes ‘gods/god-like strength’.
She continued, “Because it took the courage of the three members to engage in a lawsuit like this, we ask that you don’t simply view Dong Bang Shin Ki’s problem as that of finances or money but as a problem of the right to health and human rights.” She said of SM, “if you (SM) are not willing to improve yourself in this area of unfair slave contracts, then at least have the decency to let the five members go and not interfere in their activities afterwards.” Then she concluded, “if [SM] adds new members under the name Dong Bang Shin Ki that new group will be regarded as nothing but a ‘counterfeit’ Dong Bang Shin Ki by fans.
Even if it was delegated comprehensive authority the management company’s authority is limited
Lawyer Park Ju Min (law firm Hangyeol) elaborated on the legal aspects of this incident: “Even if a management company claims that it rightfully received the right to exercise comprehensive authority over the celebrity through delegation [translator’s note: he’s talking about the concept that in signing the contract DBSK members voluntarily gave up their rights to…well…everything] it is still obligated to ask for the permission of [the celebrity] when it comes to [the celebrity’s] individual projects.”
Lawyer Park then added, “it is still possible for a management company to fulfil its role toward its signed entertainers whilst maintaining its authority,” and “the trend revealed by this incident is that in the contractual relationship between the management and their signed entertainers, the weaker side is the entertainer; but, accepting this, it is possible to channel this authority into protecting the entertainers.”
In addition, “the penalty that Dong Bang Shin Ki would have to pay for breach of contract, at 400 million USD, is too high,” and “as severe as the unfairness of the contract is, the imputation of blame/responsibility [to SM] is too small and progressively reduced.”
Also of note, SM’s representatives were invited several times to the panel discussion but in the end did not show up.