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American Silent Films and Copyright Infringement in the 1920s’ Korea ―A Reconstruction on the Reception of the Pirated Copy of Way Down East (1920)

  • The Journal of Korean drama and theatre
  • 2023, (78), pp.103-136
  • DOI : 10.17938/tjkdat.2023..78.103
  • Publisher : The Learned Society Of Korean Drama And Theatre
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Other Arts and Kinesiology
  • Received : March 12, 2023
  • Accepted : March 29, 2023
  • Published : April 30, 2023

AHN SEJUNG 1

1고려대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper empirically examines the flip side of the establishment and development of the distribution network of the early Korean film industry through the first copyright dispute case in Korean film history. In 1927, the first movie copyright-related lawsuit was filed in Korea by one of the U.S. major film companies, the United Artists, which accused two local agents in Korea for the charge of distributing illegal copies of American films. The year actually marked a watershed moment for Korean film history to understand the differentiation of the distribution industry and the concept of film copyright. This is because Kisin Yanghaeng, the first Korean foreign film distribution company, was established, and an amendment to the existing incomplete film copyright was submitted to the Japanese parliament, which resulted in the elaboration of the concept of film copyright. Apart from the efforts of the Korean theaters to systematize the distribution network, however, the circulation of illegal copies that were commonly called “piracy” did not easily disappear. This paper argues that the circulation of unauthorized film copies of American films in colonial Korea could mean more than just violations and infringements of copyright as this implied structural conditions of the colonial film market that were located at the end of the global distribution network. In doing so, this paper aims to identify the following two. First, a large-scale campaign lauched by United Artists to root out the practice of "piracy," or unauthorized illegal copy distribution, which prevailed in the Far East Asian market in the 1920s, will be examined from a comparative perspective. Second, the paper tried to track down the actual route in which the pirated version of Way Down East (1920) arrived in colonial Korea from an empirical perspective.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.

This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.