The Korean Assn. of Phonograph Producers (KAPP) is threatening legal action to stop sales of the new MP3-capable mobile phones introduced by Seoul-based carrier LG Telecom.

SEOUL -- The Korean Assn. of Phonograph Producers (KAPP) is threatening legal action to stop sales of the new MP3-capable mobile phones introduced by Seoul-based carrier LG Telecom.

Nearly three months of talks between KAPP, LG Telecom and the Ministry of Information and Communication broke down May 28, leading KAPP to announce that it will seek an injunction under the Copyright Act to stop sales of the phones. The Korean Copyright Act was introduced in 1957 and last amended in 2003.

The problem, as KAPP sees it, is that almost all MP3s available for download in South Korea are illegal, as legal download services have yet to take off in the territory. Most South Koreans get their online music from illegal file-sharing and streaming services, using well-known foreign operations such as Limewire and Bittorrent, or local services such as Soribada and Bugsmusic.

"Most young people use MP3 players, but everyone uses mobile phones," says Yun Sung-woo, chief of legal affairs at KAPP. "Because Korea has such a high turnover rate for its mobile phones, within a couple of years, everyone could have MP3 phones."

To prevent MP3-capable phones from being used for illegal downloading of music, South Korea's other major mobile carriers, KTF and SK Telecom, agreed this spring to demands by KAPP and other trade groups to limit sound quality on their phones and to introduce a three-day restriction on songs, after which the files lose audio quality.

KAPP officials say LG Telecom refuses to accept that policy. "Our services shouldn't encroach upon the rights of MP3 users," says Brian Cho, public relations manager at LG Telecom.

LG Telecom has sold more than 120,000 MP3-capable handsets since introducing them in May. After such a strong start for the devices, KTF and SK Telecom say they may be compelled to break their agreements with the music industry.

"We are discussing what to do next," says a KTF spokesperson. "But anything is possible."

LG Telecom remains committed to producing its MP3-capable phones. "According to our legal analysis, there are no rational reasons for (the music industry) to sue," says Cho.

He says that if the music industry makes good on its threats to revoke the ringtone, ringtune and other music licenses that LG Telecom uses, the company is prepared to sue on the grounds that the industry would be "interrupting" LG Telecom's business and violating the concept of "fair use."

"At the same time, we'll make every effort to find a win-win solution with (the music industry)," Cho adds.

Mobile phone-delivered music has been one of the few bright spots for the South Korean music industry in the past couple of years. KAPP says that in 2003, South Koreans spent more money (200 billion won, or $168 million) on ringtones, ringtunes and mobile-phone music downloads than on albums (180 billion won, or $158 million).

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