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Can’t Do That, Koreans Tell Karaoke Maker

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Korean-theme karaoke machines sold to restaurants and bars nationwide use videos of famous Korean musicians without paying them and without their permission, one such artist, Jin Mi Ryung, claims in a federal class action.

Jin sued TJ Media USA on behalf of all Korean musicians whose music and images are featured in karaoke machines without compensation for the images.

TJ Media, which calls itself the "leading karaoke manufacturer in the industry," controls 70 percent of U.S. sales of Korean-theme karaoke machines, according to the complaint.

The karaoke machines feature 650 to 1,000 Korean artists, and many U.S. music artists, Jin says in the complaint.

To increase the appeal of TJ Media's karaoke machines, images, videos and animations of the original artists are featured while a user selects a song, during the user's performance, and while the machine idles, according to the complaint.

The images at issue include animated renderings of the artists, images and videos taken from YouTube, and tapes of performances broadcast on Korean Broadcasting Service (KBS), Jin says.

"While defendant may pay royalties to plaintiff and the other music artists featured in the machines for the use of their songs, defendant does not compensate the featured artists for the use of their images, videos, and likenesses," the lawsuit states.

"The right to use the featured artists' images, videos, and likenesses in the machines is separate and distinct from the right to use their songs in the machines."

Jin claims the defendant's machines feature her popular 1979 song, "White Dandelion," her video version of it, and a performance by Jin that aired on KBS. She says she has not been paid for use of the music video or for her image from the live performance.

"In an interview, a representative from defendant's parent company admitted that the featured artists had not been paid directly for the use of their images, videos, and likenesses, stating that, instead, defendant's parent company had 'purchased' those rights from KBS, who had apparently agreed to indemnify defendant's parent company for any liability arising as a result of the KBS' purported transfer of those rights," Jin says in the complaint.

Jin claims that though the artists may have been paid by KBS, they never transferred publicity rights to KBS or authorized KBS to sell or transfer these rights on the artists' behalf.

"Regardless of whether KBS could grant defendant the right to use images or video from the featured artists' performances on KBS, defendant's misappropriation goes well beyond those performances, as defendant incorporates the featured artists' music videos, animated renderings of the artists, and images and videos from other sources such as YouTube into their machines, none of which KBS could possibly claim a transferable interest in," Jin says in the complaint.

TJ Media continues to update and sell the machines - which have significant sales in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. - and offers monthly content updates on the Internet to allow users to add new songs and images, according to the lawsuit.

TJ Media's largest competitor, Kumyoung Co., was using a "strikingly similar practice in its karaoke machines," and ended up settling with a group of Korean musicians who claimed the company misappropriated their publicity rights. Since early 2012, Kumyoung has been advertising its machines with a disclaimer that all artists have been compensated for the use of their images, according to the complaint.

TJ Media, however, continues to misappropriate Korean artists' images and likenesses to improperly increase their sales, revenues and profits, Jin says.

Jin seeks class damages and punitive damages for unfair competition and violation of publicity rights, and an injunction stopping TJ Media from using Korean artists' images without their consent.

She is represented by Christopher L. Lebsock with Hausfeld in San Francisco.

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