South Korea passes bill to protect underage K-pop artists from exploitation


South Korea National Assembly has passed a bill to strengthen labor protection for underage K-pop artists from exploitation by their agencies. The policy deals with problems related to unfair contracts or lack of transparency, a widespread issue in the K-pop sector. This practice frequently ensnares young and hopeful artists in exploitative contractual arrangements. 

The law is passed several months following a shocking scandal involving the exploitation of Korean pop idol Lee Seung-gi. In December, the singer filed a lawsuit against his agency, Hook Entertainment, alleging embezzlement and fraud. 

Lee claimed that despite his numerous hit albums and widespread success throughout his 18-year tenure with the company, he had not received any profits from digital music sales. Korean news outlet Dispatch reported that the star was operating under a “slave contract,” a term commonly used in the K-pop industry to describe prolonged and unjust arrangements between artists and record labels. 

The updated regulations mandate that agencies must provide their financial records to artists at least once yearly, whereas previously, they were only accessible upon request. The modification further requires that agreements must contain explicit provisions concerning compensation and costs. 

“Rookies or celebrities that are afraid of getting into conflict with their agencies may find it difficult to request settlement information,” said representative Lim Jong-Seong, a member of the Democratic Party who proposed the legislation, in a statement to news outlet Dispatch. “I expect that with mandatory disclosure of accounting details, there will be fewer conflicts arising from unfair treatment.” 

The bill has been dubbed Lee Seung-gi Crisis Prevention Act. 

The new bill puts a cap on working hours for K-pop artists 

The legislation additionally imposes more stringent restrictions on working hours for underage performers. In the past, individuals between 15 and 20 could work up to 40 hours each week, while younger artists were limited to 35 hours. The new regulations reduce working hours across all age groups and are further divided based on age. 

Artists aged 15 to 19 are prohibited from working more than 35 hours weekly, with a maximum of seven hours daily. Those between 12 and 15 may work up to 30 hours per week, with a seven-hour daily limit. Children under 12 are permitted to work a maximum of 25 hours each week, with a six-hour daily maximum. 

Furthermore, the policy prohibits agencies from interfering with the younger artists’ right to education, excessively managing their appearance, or jeopardizing their health and safety. 

What is the Lee Seung-gi scandal? 

The controversy dates back to November 2022, when Lee Seung-gi requested an official revenue report from longtime agency Hook Entertainment. Lee Seung-gi started his career as a singer in 2004 with Hook Entertainment before foraying into acting. 

A news report released a copy of Lee’s contract and claimed he had received inadequate compensation for several years, despite a signed agreement to divide profits with Hook on a 7:3 ratio. 

Last December, the agency reached a settlement with Lee over the disagreement on profits, paying him 5.4 billion won ($4.12 million). However, the agency did not disclose the reason for this specific amount. Lee then took to Instagram to notify his over four million followers that although he had received the payment, the primary concern was the absence of transparency. 

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