Cell phone cloning rekindles debate on celebrity right to privacy
SEOUL, Jan 22, 2009 (Asia Pulse Data Source via COMTEX) --
An unfolding probe this week into the alleged cloning of a top celebrity's cell phone by the star's own agent has renewed debate on the boundaries between an entertainer's right to privacy and commercial interests.
Sidus HQ, one of the largest entertainment agencies in South Korea, secretly paid technical experts 6.4 million won (US$4,630) to clone actress Jeon Ji-hyeon's phone in 2007. The actress only learned of the agent's scheme this month.
Rumors were circulating that Jeon, one of South Korea's most popular actresses, had been on bad terms with her agent for interfering in her personal life and was planning not to renew her contract with the firm. Jeon signed with Sidus HQ during high school more than 10 years ago.
Investigators now say other celebrities may also have fallen victim to such schemes.
"We are investigating whether the agent cloned phones of more stars," the Seoul police said. "We suspect this may have been the agents' regular way of controlling celebrities."
Last year, the country's Fair Trade Commission asked 10 major entertainment firms to amend their contracts with more than 300 stars it believes had been subjected to unfair deals.
Nearly 200 of the 350 celebrities questioned by the commission confessed they were forced to report their whereabouts to agents even when they were not working. More than 100 said they had virtually no private life.
"The president of my agency calls me constantly, and I have to prove to him that I'm at home. I hate mobile phones with visual functions," popular singer Seo In-young said on a recent talk show.
"Stars know that their contracts are unfair and are under stress because they have no private life, but they are forced to sign the deals because that's the only way they will have a chance of becoming popular and earning money," the commission said. "We are concerned that the current environment will not be reformed in a single try."
Some contracts allowed agents to claim entire earnings of clients who break the deal, while others stipulated the agency has the right to decide on the celebrity's choice of college, overseas activities and investments.
In their defense, the agencies claim they invest heavily in "creating" a star and even if the contracts appear "oppressive," the stated terms serve as a safety net against celebrities who defect to rival firms that offer more money.
"Training and feeding celebrity hopefuls often add up to tens of millions of won. And most of them require plastic surgery these days," an unnamed official at an entertainment firm said. "It is a costly investment, a gamble for us."
Some celebrities have begun to stand up for themselves in recent years.
A female singer filed a lawsuit with the Seoul Central Court last November, successfully nullifying a contract that required her to pay billions of won if she left the company before her 10-year term expired.
The contract also banned her from "causing public trouble" and "making embarrassing headlines," a commonly used contractual obligation aimed at preventing female celebrities from having boyfriends or drinking too much.