In 2017, a group of film companies announced the launch of the Foreign Film Buyer-Distributors Assn. of Korea, aiming to contribute to a better business environment and fairer practices. However, the first dispute occurred between member companies in September — less than a year after organization’s birth.

Jinjin Pictures, a member of the association, agreed with Taiwan’s Trigram Films in June to buy Korean rights to “Hear Me” (pictured above) and had the first draft of the contract notarized. The following month, however, the Taiwanese company notified Trigram that another Korean buyer had quoted higher price for the film and suggested that Jinjin either cancel the contract or alter its condition.

Jinjin figured that AUD, another member of the association, was negotiating for “Hear Me” and informed the company about its existing deal. As AUD insisted that it would still buy the film’s Korean rights, the buyer-distributors association released a statement, calling for AUD to withdraw the theatrical release of “Hear Me,” stating that it undermines fair film trade environment.

“We asked the Taiwanese company about its contract with Jinjin, but were only informed that the contract had been canceled already. […] In purchasing ‘Hear Me,’ we have done nothing ethically dishonest,” said AUD’s spokesperson in a statement.

In October, the association announced that the two companies had met and ended the dispute. “AUD apologized to Jinjin for pushing ahead with the contract without checking the existing contract between Jinjin and Trigram Films, and Jinjin accepted,” said the association.

Even though the dispute between the two Korean companies has been cleared at a friendly level, the one between Jinjin and Trigram Films, which signed contracts with both Jinjin and AUD, will have to go through AFMA’s international arbitration. Against such backdrop, the Korean Film Council (Kofic), whose main agenda under the new leadership include fair trade, signed an agreement with the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board’s international arbitration center.

That agreement aims to help Korean cinema and its staff work more efficiently and safely in the international market with legal stability. Kofic and KCAB will work together to promote international arbitration in the Korean film industry; to educate industry employees about responding to international disputes; and to conduct research on cross-border disputes such as the “Hear Me” case.

“From acquisition, sales, investment to co-production, Korean cinema has been widely engaged in the international communication and legal issues have therefore arisen,” says Shin Hee-taek, head of the KCAB international arbitration center. “However, neither legal guidance nor corrective measures has been sufficient. We hope this serves as a safety net that guarantees legal certainty in the Korean film industry.”