Are you a KDrama fan Curious about South Korean Defamation Law? Here's A Brief Introduction - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Are you a KDrama fan Curious about South Korean Defamation Law? Here’s A Brief Introduction

Are you a KDrama fan Curious about South Korean Defamation Law? Here’s A Brief Introduction

On a recent episode of Record of Youth, a South Korean television show airing on Netflix, much of the episode was spent deciding how to handle online trolls.1 There was much debate between characters about whether or not to involve the police and press criminal defamation charges.2 As an American law student currently enrolled in a First Amendment course, I wanted to understand the basics of how criminal defamation law works in South Korea.

Under South Korea’s Criminal Act, Chapter XXXIII is dedicated to “Crimes Against Reputation.”3 Article 307 outlines the crime and punishment of defamation as “(1) [a] person who defames another by publicly alleging facts shall be punished by imprisonment or imprisonment without prison labor for not more than two years or by a fine not exceeding five million won” or “(2) [a] person who defames another by publicly alleging false facts shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than five years, suspension of qualifications for not more than ten years, or a fine not exceeding ten million won.”4 Cyber defamation is covered further under the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection, etc. where, according to Article 70, “[a] person who commits defamation of another person by disclosing a fact to the public through an information and communications network purposely to disparage his or her reputation shall be punished by imprisonment with labor for up to three years, or by fine not exceeding 30 million won.”5 Under Article 310 of the South Korean Criminal Act, there is a defense to a defamation charge “[i]f the acts… are true and solely for the public interest.”6

The South Korean law criminalizing cyber defamation, Article 70, is notably broad in that it covers both truthful statements and false statements.7 Additionally, to qualify as defamation, statements must satisfy the element of intent to “purposefully disparage.”8 Furthermore, under South Korean procedure, the defendant is burdened with proving the statement’s truthfulness.9 For reference, under American defamation law, a statement being true is an absolute defense to liability and the plaintiff—not the defendant—is burdened with proving a statement’s truthfulness.10

In practice, it seems that a significant number of criminal defamation lawsuits do not lead to arrests.11 Of the 15,926 online defamation cases in 2018, about 10,889 led to arrests.12 In practice, one blogger detailed her experience filing criminal defamation claims, and during the process she was told by police that a defamation case would proceed by either: (1) settling, where the two parties would come to an agreement and the charges would be dropped; or (2) going to a prosecutor if the parties do not come to an agreement.13

It is important to note that South Korea’s defamation laws are controversial. South Korea’s defamation laws have been the target of criticism from both international and local human rights advocates, who argue that these laws allow those in power to protect themselves from legitimate criticism.14 For example, in 2013 human rights lawyers and journalists were charged with criminal defamation after publishing evidence that the National Intelligence Service was working on behalf of Park Geun-Hye, the incumbent Presidential candidate, to launch a cyber campaign against her political opposition.15 Although those lawsuits were quickly dismissed, other defamation lawsuits have been known to go on beyond one year.16 In a 2015 report written by People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, a prominent South Korean watchdog organization, they argued that defamation lawsuits are filed not for the goal of conviction, but instead are filed to “create a chilling effect that will minimize legitimate criticism and scrutiny of the government.”17 More recently, with the #MeToo movement spreading beyond Hollywood, local civic rights and women’s rights advocates have continued to criticize South Korean defamation laws as a way for alleged sex abusers to silence their victims.18 Many advocates have campaigned for legal reform and it looks like it might be a while before there are any changes to South Korea’s defamation laws.


  1. See Record of Youth (Netflix television broadcast Oct. 13, 2020).

  2. Id.

  3. Criminal Act, art. 307 (S. Kor.), translated in Korea Legislation Research Institute, https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=28627&lang=ENG.

  4. Id.

  5. Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilization and Information Protection, etc., art. 70 (S. Kor.), translated in Korea Legislation Research Institute, https://elaw.klri.re.kr/eng_service/lawView.do?hseq=38422&lang=ENG.

  6. Criminal Act, art. 307 (S. Kor.); San Hyun Back, Problems with Korea’s Defamation Law, Korean Econ. Inst. of Am., http://keia.org/problems-korea’s-defamation-law (last visited Oct. 21, 2020).

  7. Criminal Act, art. 307 (S. Kor.); Sean Hayes, Korea’s Cyber Defamation Law: Basics of Libel and Slander in Korea, The Korean Law Blog (Aug. 7, 2015), https://www.thekoreanlawblog.com/2015/08/korea-defamation-lawyers.html [https://perma.cc/SBD5-N7BA].

  8. Id.

  9. Sean Hayes, Defamation Law Under Korean Law, The Korean Law Blog (May 12, 2014), https://www.thekoreanlawblog.com/2014/05/a-review-of-defamation-under-korean-law.html [https://perma.cc/6ZEK-MS5V].

  10. Id.

  11. Freedom on the Net 2019, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/country/south-korea/freedom-net/2019 (last visited Oct. 21, 2020) [https://perma.cc/JNP7-W2Q5].

  12. Id.

  13. Gina, I Sued for Defamation…, Gina Bear’s Blog (Jan. 16, 2020), https://ginabearsblog.com/i-sued-for-defamation [https://perma.cc/95LY-62ZX].

  14. Choe Sang-Hun, South Korea Government Accused of Using Defamation Laws to Silence Critics, N.Y. Times (Mar. 5, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/world/asia/defamation-laws-south-korea-critics-press-freedom.html [https://perma.cc/9ER6-H674].

  15. Manyan Lai, South Korea’s Defamation Law: A Dangerous Tool, Pen Am. (December 28, 2016), https://pen.org/south-koreas-defamation-law-a-dangerous-tool [https://perma.cc/MP5G-FHBS].

  16. Id.

  17. Id.

  18. Fighting for justice in S Korea, where truth can be a crime, The Nation Thailand (Aug. 19, 2018), https://www.nationthailand.com/opinion/30352499 [https://perma.cc/S38N-WJGS].

Samantha Romano

Samantha Romano is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.A. in International Relations from Connecticut College.