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South Korea’s music business is a big business in Asia. As Korean-Pop (K-Pop) sets its sights on foreign country like Europe and the US, it definitely will force a change in the way the entertainment companies treats its artists. In order for the entertainment companies to help protect their investments, these companies have the individuals of groups signing the contracts, binding them to the company for a number of years. According to the BBC’s reporter Lucy Williamson, some of K-Pop’s biggest pop stars were built on the back of slave contracts. But what do we know about the slave contract?
A slave contract is a long-term, often unfair agreement signed by K-pop artists with their management companies. It has been known widely throughout the Internet that the contract between an artists and his or her management companies is lengthy, allows for little personal freedom such as dating or days for vacation, thrill packed schedules, and perhaps most notably is that they do not promise when or even if the trainee debuts. Thus, we called it, the slave contract. However, these are not the exhaustive lists of all that a “slave contract” is entails because no one could know all of the details due to the confidential nature of such a contract, but these are the circumstances that caused the most concern.
There has been a lot of news cover over the past few years regarding these slave contracts, where the artists is signed to the company for a number of years. For instance, six years ago, the most successful boy group Dong Bang Shin Ki, took its management which is SM Entertainment to the court for over 13 year contract and claimed the contract they entered into was 13 years and was too long, too restrictive, and nearly gave them none of the profits from their success. As a result, they won the case and the ruling prompted the Fair Trade Commission to enforce the model contract which attempted to improve the deals and benefits that artists got from their management companies.
After the boy group revealed the ugly truth behind their contracts, the news agency found that Girls’ Generation’s Yoona‘s contract was the same length as Dong Bang Shin Ki’s 13 years contract. Another famous boy group, Super Junior, each of the members has a contract that lasts between 5 and 13 years. The members of ‘SHINee‘ each have a contract that lasted from 6 to 13 years. These artists all signed with SM Entertainment.
Despite that, do we know the reason why these artists sign these contracts? No, we do not know because there is very few of us are personally involved in this situation and we all know relatively nothing about this. However it may be combinations of the young age at which these trainees are begin the process along with the promise of money. A well-publicized case is that the member of Super Junior, Hangeng against his former agency, SM Entertainment. Likewise, he was tied for 13 years with SM Entertainment which was unlawful. Hangeng claimed that he was initially signed on to become a trainee for SM Entertainment in order to financially aid his family. However, he eventually filed a lawsuit against the SM because his health began to suffer, alongside with several other complaints of an unfair slave contract.
The exceptionally long length of the contract alone is unethical and unlawful but these management agencies defend themselves with their own reasons for doing so. They claimed that would be impossible to run an agency if every artist demanded to revise their contract when they became famous after billions of Won are invested in each of them during their training stages. However, the music critic Lim Jinmo said that if the Korean agencies continue to only think of the ‘income’ that their artists will bring and not the rights of their artists, then the Dong Bang Shin Ki crisis will repeat itself over and over again. Furthermore, he also said an agency is a company that cannot exist or survive without its artists.
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