January 22, 2024
SEOUL – K-pop group IVE member Jang Won-young has been embroiled in a legal battle against a local YouTuber, who recently appealed a court sentence ordering her to pay financial compensation for uploading videos with falsehoods concerning the popular star.
Jang’s lawyer told local media late Wednesday that the YouTuber, surnamed Park, appealed the case after the civil court handed the ruling last month. The 19-year-old K-pop star and her agency Starship Entertainment have also filed criminal charges of defamation, insult and interference of business against Park.
The ongoing battles between Jang and Park highlight the social issues sparked by what is known in Korean as a “cyber wrecker,” referring to YouTube channels that post rumors or negative news about celebrities, often in a maliciously edited form. The term derives from the Korean word for tow truck, “rekkeo,” coming from “wrecker.” Privately run tow trucks have induced controversy here by flashing sirens on their way to accident sites despite not being state-approved emergency vehicles.
Park’s now-defunct channel has been infamous among fans of K-pop stars for spreading videos of false rumors, and a number of celebrities, including V of BTS, have vowed legal action against her. The channel had garnered an accumulated 150 million views through its videos, before being taken down last year.
But pursuing legal action against YouTubers who remain anonymous has posed difficulties for South Korean celebrities, since filing legal charges requires information about the litigant. The video-sharing channel’s operator, Google, is based in California, and acquiring Park’s information required an order from a California court.
In a May 24, 2023 ruling, however, the US District Court Northern District of California granted Starship Entertainment the right to request the related information from Google and YouTube. This ruling allowed the agency to press charges against Park.
While Jang has pressed charges, at least for the time being, the legal procedures remain an obstacle for many celebrities here. In addition, slander via spreading falsehoods online can be punished by up to seven years in prison by law, but in practice, online defamation rarely gets punished with more than fines.
Last August, Seoul Eastern District Court sentenced a 30-something man to pay a 3 million won fine for writing false statements about local celebrity chef and businessperson Baek Jong-won. A 2021 verdict on defamation against cartoonist Kim Na-young ordered the defendant to pay a 2 million won fine.
According to the National Police Agency, the number of internet defamation cases in 2022 marked an all-time high of 29,528.