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The Supreme Court upheld a ruling that long-term contracts between entertainers and their agencies are unfair and therefore invalid.
The top court Friday invalidated a contract putting an entertainer under the control of his agency for as long as a decade, saying the contract restricted freedom.
This verdict is expected to put the brakes on entertainment agencies’ long-established practice of controlling its stars for as long as possible with slave-like contracts.
Woo Sung-hyun, a 20-year-old member of popular boy band U-Kiss, filed a suit in 2008 challenging his contract, calling it “unfair.”
In 2006, Woo signed with the agency, Ssing Entertainment, a 10-year contract that stipulated if his performances were suspended due to health problems or mandatory military service, the inactive period would be added to the term.
Any acts violating the terms cost the singer a financial penalty three times the agency’s investment in him, according to the contract.
A district court ruled in favor of Woo, saying, “The first ten years after his debut album constitute virtually his entire life as a singer. Given the nature of the industry, the contract term is unfair and excessively infringes upon his rights.”
An appellate court upheld the decision.
Such excessively binding contracts in the showbiz industry came to light when three members of the popular boy band TVXQ filed a suit against its agency, SM Entertainment, to invalidate what they called “life-long slave contracts.”
The three ㅡ Micky, Xiah and Hero ㅡ claimed their agency prohibited their freedom as artists by forcing them to follow the agency’s demands to appear at certain performances and broadcasts for 13 years. The litigation is still underway.
The dispute led to the country’s fair trade watchdog drawing up guidelines for entertainer-agency contracts, which set the maximum length at seven years. They also ban an agency’s excessive intervention into employees’ private lives.