The Hallyu Attorney: Entertainment Lawyer David Kim Talks About New Media, K-Pop & More

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New media emerges so quickly that copyright and liability laws continue to be reframed to fit the evolving scene; it’s not easy to decide what’s considered fair use and what’s copyright infringement in media that didn’t exist 10 years or even 10 weeks ago. The question is always out there and the landscape of entertainment law that is here today may be changed tomorrow. When we think about transnational media laws, particularly in regards to K-pop and other pop culture exports that surpass national boundaries, there’s a bit of a juggling act going on. Luckily, that’s what people like David Kim are for.

Los Angeles based entertainment attorney, actor, and musician David Yung Ho Kim is often asked for his advice on the evolving legal ramifications of new media. It’s a large part of what he does for legal practice, The Hollywood Lawyer, which focuses on film, television, music, licensing, new media, and talent representation.

Yet Kim might never have been a lawyer had his father not insisted. “He sat my brother and me down,” said Kim over the phone. “He told my brother, you be a doctor. Then he said, You be a lawyer.” At the time Kim was more interested in politics and entertainment, so he hoped for a way to combine law with his interests. However, he knew he did not want to work in Washington, D.C., where the world of politics would take him.

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After graduating from University of California, Berkeley, with cum laude honors, he studied law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. Then he practiced law in a variety of capacities, including serving at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, working at JYP USA, and in the Business and Legal Affairs Division of CJ Entertainment America. After serving as in-house legal counsel for an LA-based talent management and film production company, Kim launched The Hollywood Lawyer.

“I thought, I could do this on my own, so I started my own entertainment practice,” he said. Established less than two years ago, the practice currently employs two other attorneys and two support staff. “The entertainment part happened because I already had friends in the Korean entertainment industry, singers, and actors,” said Kim. “I ended up doing their legal work as well. Everything aligned and in a way I became the go-to-guy for Korean entertainment stuff in LA.”

Kim was prepared for the legal challenges posed by new media. After working as a research assistant to Professor Robert Brauneis, a scholar in the area of copyright and trademark law, Kim was well versed in intellectual property rights. He also had friends working in digital media. “They would occasionally ask me questions about their entertainment contracts and other legal issues related to their careers and I thought this could be another practice,” said Kim.

Copyright law is not only about major entertainment companies cracking down on singers making cover songs on YouTube. It’s also about protecting independent artists from having their rights infringed in a variety of media. “If you’re not a big studio and not a big production company, independent creatives get their stuff ripped off. There’s so much content out there now. It’s hard to keep tabs on each and every piece. We are in an age of content explosion. It’s hard to monitor what’s being infringed on and what’s original.”

But as many copyright questions as digital technology raises, Kim agrees that it helped make the Hallyu an international phenomenon. “It definitely worked to K-pop’s advantage,” he said. “When the Wonder Girls went on Youtube [in 2009], it was on its ascent. You might visit any random Asian country and everyone would know who the Wonder Girls were. Technology solidified K-pop’s presence in Asia.”

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Timing also has something to do with the promotion of Hallyu. “Any other country could have done it but I feel like the timing was perfect,” said Kim. “K-pop found its niche. Other countries in Asia were not producing so much of their own content so Korean content exploded in popularity. They wanted the music and the dramas. At the same time there was a digital explosion as well in the U.S. but because there was already so much content being produced in the U.S., Korean content did not enter the market as strongly here as it did in Asia.”

But the time for the Hallyu to conquer the U.S. may soon be approaching. “It’s all in the timing,” said Kim. “Psy may have been a flash in the pan, but recently America has slowly become aware of the fact that its content is a little too homogeneous. Consumers are looking for something different, something that is new and hip. Yes, Girls’ Generation appeared on David Letterman [in 2012]. Yes, Stephen Colbert did his “Rain!!!!” thing [in 2007] and yeah, that was funny, but the timing wasn’t right. Now is the perfect time. America is ready to connect with the Hallyu as long as the Hallyu can connect with American culture.”

The same weekend that this interview took place, American late night talk show host Conan O’Brien and Korean-American actor Steven Yeun took part in a k-pop video with J.Y. Park. Within three days that video received over one million hits.

Kim is a K-pop fan, citing Red Velvet as one of his favorite new groups although he says he tends to prefer iconic kpop acts such as SS501. And although he started watching dramas with his family at the age of six, these days he rarely has time to indulge in a marathon. Every now and then someone tells him he must watch a drama and he gives in. The last one he saw was “You Who Came From The Stars” and before that it was “My Lovely Kim Sam Soon.” “They’re very addictive,” he said.

Although the past few years have seen several K-dramas optioned for U.S. adaptation, Kim suggests that they may require significant alteration to appeal to a wider U.S. audience. “Korean variety shows have a better chance being adapted for over here,” he said. “Even among my clients, some players in the industry are carefully watching the Korean entertainment industry now and have variety shows in development. Dramas and sitcoms do have cultural elements embedded in them and it would be a little harder for U.S. audiences to connect with them, but who knows?”

Besides his busy law practice, Kim is also an actor and a musician. He’s landed a few acting gigs, some commercials, but he’s still a Hollywood hopeful. “I’m waiting to snag a regular role,” said Kim. Fortunately, he won’t have to wait tables while going on auditions.

What do you think about the complexities of international law and K-pop? Share your thoughts in the comment section below and be sure to subscribe to the site and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr to keep up with all of our posts.